Aug 3, 2014

Do consumers trust mobile operators, Internet and media companies?

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) in the UK recently launched its findings from a survey [1] of the UK population. The study examined the attitudes of individuals towards the use of (their) data and the appeal of data sharing. The study is based on a survey carried out by Ipsos MORI for the RSS and covered adults in the ages 16 to 75 age range in Great Britain.

The RSS study found that media, Internet, telecommunications and insurance companies, all come at the bottom of a ‘trust in data’ league table. Is any of this relevant to companies in the M2M and IoT markets?

Over the long term, data from an ever increasing number of connected devices will be used to build consumer profiles (which feeds into ‘Social’ strategy); to enable new service propositions (M2M/IoT strategy) and to enhance customer care (which feeds into ‘Digital’ strategy). So, the answer is yes, ‘data trust’ is important. And, the RSS study contains pointers on the priority issues that companies will need to address to improve their brand perception.

The RSS study explored consumer attitudes to the use of personal data in relation to a 15 different institutions including: the government; an individual’s general practitioner (GP) surgery; the police; supermarkets and telecommunications companies among others.

Survey participants were asked how much they trusted each institution to use their personal data appropriately. A score of 0 meant that they did not trust them at all, and a score of 10 meant that they had complete trust. The format of the results takes the form of a% of the sample population having a score of 0 which stands for ‘no trust’, b% of the sample population rating an institution with a score of 1, c% of the sample population rating an institution with a score of 2 all the way up to a score of 10 which stands for ‘complete trust’.

For visualization purposes, the following chart shows the ‘trust profile’ for a few institutions. I have calculated the cumulative trust score for each institution and normalized the result at the mid-point score of 5. What this means is that the lower-left side of the chart is not a good place to be, whereas there is considerable virtue in being as far to the top-right side of the chart. In addition, the higher that a profile is relative to the vertical axis, the better that institution is rated by UK consumers.

Internet companies (search engines and social media) fare the worst with a significant proportion of respondents expressing ‘no trust’. Telecommunications companies and the media/press also find themselves in close proximity.

Slightly higher up come the police. Here, relatively few respondents expressed no trust whatsoever and a healthy balance reported complete trust.

GP surgeries perform best from this sample of institutions. There is still a degree of no trust but the ‘complete- trust’ rating is visibly stronger and illustrates the kind of gap that Internet, media and telecommunications companies need to close in terms of consumer confidence.

The RSS study examined some of the reasons why individuals did not trust different institutions with their personal data. Across the media, Internet and telecommunications segments, 11 different reasons were recorded. The following table shows the top three reasons (and the percentage of respondents) in different industry verticals for individuals who reported a score of 5 or less on the ranking scale (i.e. these reasons apply to to the most disenchanted individuals).

Top-3 Reasons for Lack of 'Data-Trust' in the Three Worst Faring Market Sectors
Internet Companies
I don't trust them at all 58% I think they will use my data for other purposes they won't tell me about 65% I think they will use my data for other purposes they won't tell me about 65%
I don't think they will use the data for my personal benefit55% I don't think they will use the data for my personal benefit 64% They might lose my data to hackers 64%
I think they will use my data for other purposes they won't tell me about 53% They might lose my data to hackers 52% I don't think they will use the data for my personal benefit 55%
 SOURCE: RSS/Ipsos MORI survey of UK consumers (2014)

Two issues stand out from these results. Firstly, consumers worry that their data will be appropriated without their knowledge. Secondly, consumers are concerned that they will not benefit from the use of their personal data.

Companies have a huge range of opportunities to correct this perception. As I have written about earlier [2], there are many ways to use personal data including in the delivery of improved services, for better customer care, for loyalty management or even through the offer of some form of monetary compensation.

In terms of the scope to create value and the huge monetization possibilities being exposed by M2M and IoT applications, mobile operators and their partners in the mobile eco-system have every reason to be concerned about their data trust profile. Personal device and consumer profile data flowing through their networks and resident in their billing, customer care, and location systems will be critical inputs to their social media, IoT and ‘Digital’ strategies.

A bit more effort on reputation management and customer education will deliver rich dividends to current investments in technology and product development activities.

[1] New RSS research finds ‘data trust deficit’, with lessons for policymakers 

[2] Prices and Value of Consumer Data -


  1. 2 Oct 2014 update - Here is some interesting and early research on the impact of social networking, trust and subjective well-being

    Online networks and subjective well-being

    We argue that the use of online networks may threaten subjective well-being in several ways, due to the inherent attributes of Internet-mediated interaction and through its effects on social trust and sociability. We test our hypotheses on a representative sample of the Italian population. We find a significantly negative correlation between online networking and well-being. This result is partially confirmed after accounting for endogeneity. We explore the direct and indirect effects of the use of social networking sites (SNS) on well-being in a SEM analysis. We find that online networking plays a positive role in subjective well-being through its impact on physical interactions, whereas SNS use is associated with lower social trust. The overall effect of networking on individual welfare is significantly negative.


  2. 20 January 2016 Update

    Here is a new study across several European countries (8000+ sample) about consumer attitudes towards personal data and their levels of trust with different institutions (see slide #42 onward).

  3. 14 Mar 2017 update

    Telefonica's Aura service could restore trust in mobile operator service relationship(s).