As the world continues to struggle with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, data and data privacy have never been more critical. Our health status; our test results; our physical locations; our contacts with others – these are exactly the types of information that governments want to collect from individuals to control the spread of the virus, and that companies need to ensure safe working environments. But these are also the types of deeply personal information that people are concerned about sharing and that privacy regulations seek to protect on their behalf.

National or global emergencies are often accompanied by an erosion of individual rights as citizens willingly trade privacy for a sense of security, as anyone who flew before and after the 9/11 attacks can attest. As the COVID-19 virus spread across the world earlier this year, many predicted it would signal the end of data privacy. But consumers don’t see it that way.

The Cisco 2020 Consumer Privacy Survey, released today, explores how individuals around the world are balancing the need to share their information with the need for privacy in the current environment, as well as the ongoing importance of data privacy and privacy regulation. The report, which is our second annual look at consumer privacy issues, draws on responses from a double-blind survey of more than 2600 adults in 12 countries worldwide.

Here are a few highlights of the survey findings:

  1. Despite the pandemic, consumers continue to want their information protected. Most respondents (63%) want no changes to privacy laws or only limited exceptions. And while 57% support an employer’s need to check health information to ensure a safe workplace, only 37% support sharing information about infected neighbors or coworkers. Interestingly, with so many people working and learning remotely, 60% of them are concerned about the privacy protections associated with the tools they are being asked to use for collaborating and transacting remotely.
  2. Nearly a third of consumers are “Privacy Actives” – those who have stopped doing business with organizations over data privacy concerns. Consumers are taking matters into their own hands when they don’t trust how their data is used. The types of companies they have abandoned aren’t just online services, such as social media and ISPs, but traditional brick-and-mortar companies like retail stores, banks, and credit card companies. And once trust is broken, many of these customers are not likely to return.
  3. Consumers expect their governments to take the lead in protecting their data, and residents of all countries surveyed view their privacy laws very favorably. Consumers don’t always trust companies to adhere to their own privacy policies, so they think the primary responsibility should fall to national and local governments.  Given this need, it’s interesting that in every country surveyed, respondents who were aware of their country’s privacy laws overwhelmingly saw those laws as having a positive impact (e.g., respondents in Australia were 58% positive vs. 4% negative; in France, 43% positive vs. 1% negative).
  4. Consumers want more transparency on how their data is being used. Nearly half of all respondents don’t believe they are able to effectively protect their personal data today. The number one reason by far was the issue of transparency: consumers believe that companies simply make it too hard to figure out exactly what they are doing with their customers’ data.

This research suggests that privacy is not only a regulatory issue, but a consumer priority and a business imperative as well. At Cisco, we also believe that privacy is a fundamental human right. Based on that belief and our experience in protecting the data privacy of our customers, employees, and partners, we recommend that organizations do the following:

  • Provide as much transparency as possible to customers on what data you collect, how you use it, and how you protect it. Cisco publishes privacy data sheets and data maps that provide this information for many of our most popular products and services.
  • Ensure that your tools are safe and privacy-ready, and consider privacy issues early and throughout the design process. Cisco follows a privacy-by-design approach with our Secure Development Lifecycle.
  • Drive awareness of privacy regulations in each of the countries where you do business. When consumers understand what protections they have, they are more confident in sharing their data when requested.

 Additional Resources:

Consumer Privacy Infographic

Cisco 2020 Data Privacy Benchmark Study

Cisco Data Privacy

Cisco Trust Portal


Robert Waitman

Director, Privacy Center of Excellence