Press release

4 Mar 2021 London, GB

Half of global citizens risk missing out on governments’ digital services boom due to privacy concerns, EY survey warns

LONDON, 4 March 2021. Governments pushing ahead with increased online services run the risk of alienating large numbers of their citizens due to concerns around data privacy, according to How can digital government connect citizens without leaving the disconnected behind? a new EY survey of 12,100 working age respondents across 12 countries.

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  • 53% of survey respondents say risks outweigh benefits of government sharing their data
  • 61% likely to use government training schemes to improve digital skills
  • 72% believe technology can be used to benefit society but concerns about inequality and social cohesion emerge

Governments pushing ahead with increased online services run the risk of alienating large numbers of their citizens due to concerns around data privacy, according to How can digital government connect citizens without leaving the disconnected behind? a new EY survey of 12,100 working age respondents across 12 countries. Conducted by Ipsos MORI, the survey further reveals a roadmap for governments attempting to deal with the increased digitization of services brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Over the past year, the pandemic has increased the need for governments to offer more services remotely, and in some cases they have been delivered entirely online. This has resulted in the generation of much larger volumes of citizens’ data which is then collected by governments.  Yet more than half (53%) of those surveyed think that privacy and security risks around how their data is shared outweigh the benefits. Forty-six per cent think data should not be shared between the public and private sector, with only 29% saying that it should. And 41% think data should not be shared within the public sector, while only 33% believe that it should. Almost three quarters of respondents (72%) are opposed to governments selling their personal data to a private sector company, even where the objective is to fund better public services or tax cuts.

Arnauld Bertrand, EY Global Government and Public Sector Consulting Leader, says:

“The survey findings should be a wake-up call for governments across the world. The benefits of a more digital state, including increased efficiency, better value for taxpayers and better quality of service for citizens, will be significantly reduced if large segments of the population aren’t convinced of them and are at risk of disengaging from increasingly digitized public services. Many individuals could potentially be alienated, which could quickly become a dangerous problem for citizens, governments and society as a whole.”  

Technological optimism tempered by mistrust

While the survey reflects optimism that technology improves quality of life (according to 72% of respondents), there are significant concerns about its broader impact. Many believe that increased use of technology will potentially widen social inequalities, with 32% stating that technology will lead to greater social inequality and 34% stating that technology gives more power to those who are already rich and powerful.

There are further concerns around the impact of increased reliance on technology as a means for communication on social cohesion. Globally, 32% of citizens believe technology will make people feel less connected to their communities. However, demand still exists to further develop people’s digital skills. Sixty-one per cent say they would be likely to use government training schemes that improve their digital skills if they were available.

Bertrand says: “Digitization is here to stay, and during this crisis many have experienced its amazing potential to improve public services, maintain social connections and keep countries working. But there is clearly a long way to go in communicating these benefits to citizens and addressing their concerns. In a more connected world, some of the most vulnerable groups are at risk of becoming more isolated through the loss of physical support networks. Governments should demonstrate that they can be trusted to deliver safe, secure and improved digital services that will benefit all citizens. Just as importantly, they need to bring their citizens with them; access and skills are just as vital as the services being available in the first place.”

Seven personas that governments must reach

The survey segments respondents into seven personas: Aspirational Technophiles, Capable Achievers, Diligent Strivers, Tech Skeptics, Privacy Defenders, Passive Outsiders and Struggling Providers. These categories offer insights into how governments should consider working with different societal groups. For example, the survey indicates that Aspirational Technophiles, Capable Achievers and Diligent Strivers are more comfortable with sharing their data to access a service or perform a transaction online, and with their data being shared. But there is a lack of support among Tech Skeptics, Privacy Defenders and Passive Outsiders about governments and businesses gaining access to their data.

These personas also give key insights into the perspectives of certain demographics around fundamental issues, such as immigration, climate change and globalization.


Notes to Editors

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About the survey

Ipsos MORI conducted online interviews with 12,100 participants of working age across 12 countries (approximately 1,000 per country) globally between July and September 2020. Data have been weighted by age, gender, region and work status to nationally representative profiles.  Countries surveyed included Australia (aged 18-65), Brazil (18-59), France (16-75), Germany (16-75), India (18-50), Japan (18-75), Malaysia (18-65), Mexico (18-59), South Africa (18-65), UAE (18-55), the USA (18-75) and the UK (16-75).  In countries with a relatively low internet penetration, the sample is more urban, more educated, and/or more affluent than the general population and the results should be viewed as reflecting the views of a more “connected” population.