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 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).

  4. 5 March 2018 update

    Lack of transparency could cause problems for digital economy – Here Technologies

  5. 29 June 2018 update

    The combination of privacy intrusive defaults and the use of dark patterns,
    nudge users of Facebook and Google, and to a lesser degree Windows 10,
    toward the least privacy friendly options to a degree that we consider unethical.

    We question whether this is in accordance with the principles of data
    protection by default and data protection by design, and if consent given under these circumstances can be said to be explicit, informed and freely given.

  6. 6 August 2018 update

    Telcos will be honest if you force them to – Which research

    New research from Which has suggested telcos will be honest and realistic about download speeds as long as there are rules preventing them from blatantly misleading the consumer.

    Following the introduction of new rules by the Committees of Advertising Practice in May, eleven broadband providers throughout the UK have cut the speeds claimed through advertising, some by as much as 41%. The guilty parties are BT, EE, John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, Sky, Zen Internet, Post Office, SSE, TalkTalk and Utility Warehouse.

  7. 31 August 2018 update

    Bloomberg reports that, after four years of negotiations, Google purchases a trove of credit card transaction data from Mastercard, allegedly for “millions of dollars.” Google then reportedly used that data to provide select advertisers with a tool called “store sales measurement” that the company quietly announced in a blog post last year, though it failed to mention the inclusion of Mastercard data in the workflow.

    The tool can track how online ads lead to real-world purchases, and that extra data is designed to make Google’s ad products more appealing to advertisers. (Read: everybody makes more money this way.)

    The public was not informed of the reported Mastercard deal, though advertisers have had access to the transaction data for at least a year, according to Bloomberg.

  8. 2 October 2018 update

    Facebook Is Using Your Two-Factor Authentication Phone Number to Target Advertising
    Facebook is not content to use the contact information you willingly put into your Facebook profile for advertising. It is also using contact information you handed over for security purposes and contact information you didn't hand over at all, but that was collected from other people's contact books, a hidden layer of details Facebook has about you that I've come to call "shadow contact information."

  9. 30 October 2018 update

    Telefonica committed to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) with integrity and transparency, stating it is one of the first companies in the world to establish principles and ethical guidelines for its use.

    Approved by the executive committee, the principles are said to underscore “gender equality and impartiality, transparency, clarity, privacy and security”. They apply in all of the markets in which it operates and extends throughout the value chain, including partners and providers.

  10. 14 Jan 2019 update

    AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile US pledge, again, to not sell your location to shady geezers. Sorry, we don't believe them

  11. 6 February 2019 update

    GDPR's impact on Oracle's Data Cloud business and the day-to-day behaviors associated with keeping revenues flowing.

  12. 7 February 2019 update

    The Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s federal regulator of business competition, ruled that Facebook can no longer use data that it collects across different platforms without explicit permission from users.

    The German regulator noted that it didn’t take issue with Facebook-owned services like WhatsApp and Instagram collecting data. It just didn’t like that one company was aggregating all of that data across multiple platforms. And the Bundeskartellamt alleges that Facebook has used this data collection in anti-competitive ways.

    The company says it’s collecting all of that data for your own good. They’re simply using their data sharing methods to protect you against terrorism and child abuse, according to Facebook.

  13. 9 February 2019 update

    Facebook now tells each of its users which advertisers are tracking them individually through so-called Custom Audiences. This change was most likely brought by my legal actions against Facebook, conducted through PersonalData.IO. This change opens up exciting new possibilities for investigative journalism and the #MyData movement, explained below.

  14. 19 February 2019 update

    In early February, Google announced that Assistant would now work with its home security and alarm system Nest Secure.

    The problem — users didn't know a microphone even existed on their Nest security devices to begin with.

    On Tuesday, a Google spokesperson told Business Insider it had made an "error."

    "The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs. That was an error on our part," the spokesperson said.

  15. 17 May 2019 update

    US operators have been reselling the location data they accumulate about their subscribers and have been slow to deliver on promises to stop.

    Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote, "“I don’t recall consenting to this surveillance when I signed up for wireless service—and I bet neither do you. This is an issue that affects the privacy and security of every American with a wireless phone. It is chilling to think what a black market for this data could mean in the hands of criminals, stalkers, and those who wish to do us harm. I will continue to press this agency to make public what it knows about what happened. But I do not believe consumers should be kept in the dark. That is why I am making these letters available today.”

  16. 23 May 2019

    Trust as it applies to network hardware vendors.

    Thangrycat is caused by a series of hardware design flaws within Cisco's Trust Anchor module. First commercially introduced in 2013, Cisco Trust Anchor module (TAm) is a proprietary hardware security module used in a wide range of Cisco products, including enterprise routers, switches and firewalls. TAm is the root of trust that underpins all other Cisco security and trustworthy computing mechanisms in these devices. Thangrycat allows an attacker to make persistent modification to the Trust Anchor module via FPGA bitstream modification, thereby defeating the secure boot process and invalidating Cisco's chain of trust at its root. While the flaws are based in hardware, Thangrycat can be exploited remotely without any need for physical access. Since the flaws reside within the hardware design, it is unlikely that any software security patch will fully resolve the fundamental security vulnerability.

  17. 4 June 2021 update

    Amazon US customers have one week to opt out of mass wireless sharing

    Critics raise transparency fears over plan to turn all smart home devices into ‘mesh network’

  18. 5 June 2021 update

    Frontier Economics study for the Open Data Institute on The economic impact of trust in data ecosystems

    There is robust quantified evidence that greater trust is associated with increased data sharing. This confirms existing anecdotal evidence and justifies ongoing efforts to design mechanisms to boost trust. In cases where there is scope to achieve significant improvements in trust, the relevant effect size will be large.

    However, the average magnitude of the relationship between trust and data sharing suggests that boosting trust will have to be accompanied by a suite of other interventions (enabling greater discoverability of data, for example) in order for data sharing to reach its optimal level. Exploring wider factors impacting data sharing and how they can complement increases in trust will be an important area for future research. Context is also extremely important in determining the impact of changes in trust. The specific ‘trust linkages’ that exist and their maturity matter, and will vary across (and within) certain sectors.

    Whilst there is some causal evidence on the impact of trust, only a relatively small set of academic papers quantifies the actual impact of trust on data sharing. The majority of these papers tend to focus on individuals sharing data about themselves. The majority of studies have also been carried out recently, which highlights this area as an active branch of research, and one which would benefit from continued research.

    Our research also identified key gaps in the existing evidence which make it challenging to link our core findings, on the impact of trust on data sharing, to the wider literature, on the economic impact of data sharing, collection and use. Firstly, while there is some quantified evidence on the impact of trust on data sharing by individuals, there is comparatively less on the impact of trust on data sharing between organisations. Secondly, and conversely, the majority of the evidence which assesses the impact of data sharing on economic outcomes is focused on organisational data sharing as opposed to data sharing.

  19. 19 April 2022 update

    How phone companies use our personal data

    What Privacy Policies Can Tell Us

    How many of us actually read and understand all the authorisations and clauses we consent to when we buy a sim card or switch to a new operator? With this question in mind, we decided to analyse the privacy policies of telecommunications companies that concern the services and apps that nearly all operators encourage you to install to manage your profile, assessing the amount and type of data collected, and the completeness of information.

    Problems arise when during the subscription process users tick a box authorising, for instance, the processing of their data for commercial purposes. In such cases, telephone companies may use personal data, as well as navigation and location data, to identify buying habits or preferences and show targeted advertisements. The data may also be transferred to third parties (often difficult to identify or described in a generic way) who in turn may use the data for commercial purposes. In some cases, data is used for these purposes even several years after the contract has been terminated.

    Phone companies often invite users to download smartphone apps to monitor their remaining credit, the status of active deals and much more. These apps have their own privacy policies, sometimes specific, sometimes similar or identical to the service policy. However, they also often contain a tool that allows them to track activities by the users: trackers. Trackers are softwares that collect information about the person using the app, and there are various types of them. The most controversial ones in terms of data protection collect information for the purpose of identifying the user and create a profile for targeted advertising, and locate the mobile device. A tool developed by εxodus allows us anyone to analyse the apps concerned and discover which and how many trackers they contain.

  20. 12 September 2022 update

    Telcos’ concerns about using customers’ data for personalisation costs them millions
    Telcos have more customer data than any other industry, yet a new report, Telcos, personalization and the missing millions, found that they are financially disadvantaging themselves due to the disconnect between how well they think they are doing regarding personalisation and what consumers think and want.

    Some 80% of operators feel they are doing a good job of personalising customers’ experience, but only 40% of consumers agree – despite the fact the two parties are in complete agreement about the value of personalisation. In short, customers want more offers and information that are relevant to them as individuals.

    The survey found that trust is by far operators’ biggest concern regarding customers’ data for the purposes of personalisation, and 47% of consumers expressed concerns about their operators’ ability to protect their privacy while 31% of consumers want greater transparency about their operators’ data collection and storage practices.

    Despite this, 73% of consumers said they would be happy to grant operators some degree of consent to use the data held about them specifically for personalising offers, marketing, and customer service purposes.

  21. 10 Jan 2023 update

    Some of the biggest operators in Europe are getting together to offer ad-targeting tools to marketers.

    Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, and Vodafone late last week submitted a filing to the European Commission which outlines a proposal to create a new joint venture that “will offer a privacy-led, digital identification solution to support the digital marketing and advertising activities of brands and publishers.”

    In the context of Tim Berners-Lee's Inrupt, the idea is to create mutual trust between consumers and the companies to which they surrender their personal information. Inrupt offers a cloud-based solution that enables enterprises to securely host customer data in a single location that gives customers access to, and control over, the use of that data.

    Link to MNO filing -

  22. 20 December 2023 update

    OpenAI Is Not Training on Your Dropbox Documents—Today

    There’s a rumor flying around the Internet that OpenAI is training foundation models on your Dropbox documents.

    Here’s CNBC. Here’s Boing Boing. Some articles are more nuanced, but there’s still a lot of confusion.

    It seems not to be true. Dropbox isn’t sharing all of your documents with OpenAI. But here’s the problem: we don’t trust OpenAI. We don’t trust tech corporations. And—to be fair—corporations in general. We have no reason to.