Protecting privacy continues to be a critical issue for individuals, organizations, and governments around the world. Eighteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, our health information and vaccination status are needed more than ever to understand the virus, control the spread, and enable safer environments for work, learning, recreation, and other activities. Nonetheless, people want privacy protections to be maintained, and they expect organizations and governments to keep their data safe and used only for pandemic response. Individuals are also increasingly taking action to protect themselves and their data.

The Cisco 2021 Consumer Privacy Survey released today, explores what individuals are doing to protect their privacy, the impact of privacy regulations, and their attitudes regarding the use of pandemic-related information and the emerging use of their personal information in Artificial Intelligence (AI) decision-making. The report, our third-annual look at consumer privacy issues, draws on anonymous responses from 2600 adults in 12 countries.

Here are a few highlights from the survey and this infographic provides a visual description of the key data:

  1. Consumers want transparency and control with respect to business data practices. Nearly half (46%) of survey respondents feel they are unable to protect their personal data today, and the top reason cited is that companies aren’t being clear about how they are using this data. It’s perhaps not surprising that nearly a third have become “Privacy Actives” including switching companies or providers over their data practices. In addition, 25% have made inquiries to organizations about their data and 17% have requested changes or deletions to this data.
  2. Privacy laws are viewed very positively around the world, but awareness of these laws remains relatively low. Sixty percent of respondents felt their country’s privacy laws are having a positive impact, versus only 4% who said they are having a negative impact. However, only 43% overall are aware of these laws.
  3. Despite the ongoing pandemic, most consumers (62%) want little or no reduction in privacy protections. At the same time, they do support efforts to create safe environments, and 60% agree with employers requiring vaccination status before employees can access the workplace.
  4. Most believe organizations have a responsibility to only use AI in an ethical manner, and 56% are very concerned about its use today. We also tested several AI use cases (e.g., marketing, determining creditworthiness) and found that many consumers (ranging from 37% to 55% for the various use cases) would trust organizations less that engaged in these activities.

At Cisco, we believe that privacy is a fundamental human right. This research suggests that privacy continues to be a high priority for consumers, and organizations need to do their part to protect personal data and build consumer confidence in how this data is used. Some of these recommendations for organizations include:

  • Providing clear communications on how you use customer data. The top concern among consumers is not knowing how their data is being used. Organizations can help alleviate this concern with easily understood explanations on how data is used in your products and services.
  • Building awareness of your country’s privacy protections and regulations. Customers who know about these laws understand there are limits on how their data is being used, and they have more confidence that their data is safe.
  • Working to design back-to-office policies that provide a safe work environment while protecting and respecting individual rights and privacy.
  • Proceeding thoughtfully when using personal data in automated decision-making that affects customers. Positive steps organizations can take include designing and building with a responsible framework by design, establishing ethical governance over your AI program, and providing transparency on when and how you are using automated decision-making.

In parallel with the Cisco 2021 Consumer Privacy Survey, today we also released the New Trust Standard a compilation of what we’ve learned by talking and collaborating with our customers, partners, industry peers, regulators, and academia. By embracing the New Trust Standard, we’re working to turn what was once a stated value into evidence-based trust, security, and privacy. See today’s press announcement for more.

Privacy remains a cornerstone of trust. Transparency and control of data, especially related to new innovations, are integral to building and maintaining consumer confidence. As we head into October – Cybersecurity Awareness Month in the US and other nations around the world – it’s a great time to learn more and join in activities and discussions that advance cybersecurity.

Additionally, the Cisco Trust Center offers insights, stories, and guidance on building your future on a foundation of trust and transparency.

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Robert Waitman

Director, Privacy Center of Excellence