US citizens believe data collection risks outweigh the benefits

The technology world is becoming increasingly complicated and inaccessible for the majority, so it is of little surprise citizens are focusing on the negative.

A fair assumption is the majority of individuals will mistrust something they do not understand. This is not a new concept and has been evident throughout the centuries, but the technology giants have rarely helped themselves with secretive business models and presenting an incredibly opaque picture for data analysis.

According to the Pew Research Centre, a supposedly politically-neutral US think tank, the majority of US citizens do not trust the new data tsunami which is sweeping through every aspects of our lives.

Private industry Government
The citizen has little control over data collected by… 81% 84%
Risks outweigh the benefits for data collected by… 81% 66%
Concerned about how data is collected by… 79% 64%
The citizen does not know how data is used by… 59% 78%

What this data indicates is a lack of understanding, and perhaps a condemnation of the competency of those in-control of the data to manage it appropriately. This is a significant risk to anyone involved in the newly-flourishing data-sharing economy; if the general public start to push back, success will be difficult to realise.

There are of course numerous elements to consider as to why the US general public is seemingly so set against the data economy. Firstly, perhaps Big Tech has been too mysterious with the way it functions.

Few people genuinely understand the way in which the big data machine works. There might be a basic understanding of the function, purpose and outcome, but Big Tech has been incredibly secretive when it comes to the nitty-gritty details. These are trade secrets after all, the likes of Google would not want to help its rivals in creating better data-churning machines as this would erode any competitive edge. But the general public are also being left in the dark.

This generally doesn’t matter until things start to go wrong, which leads us onto the second point. There have been too many high-profile data breaches or leaks, such as Equifax, or cases where data has been used irresponsibly, Cambridge Analytica for example. When you combine negative outcomes with a lack of understanding of how the machine functions, the general public will start to become uneasy.

In general, more needs to be done to educate on numerous different areas. Firstly, how the data economy functions. Secondly, what rights individuals have to opt-out of data collections. These rights do exist, and the fact the general public is not aware is a failure of the government. Third, the general public should be aware of what is being done today; how data is being collected, stored, analysed and applied. And finally, what the big picture is, how this data can lead to benefits for society and the individual.

The issue which has been raised here is very simple to understand. The general public is beginning to mistrust the digital economy because it is being asked to trust in a mechanism without any explanation. This is a significant challenge and will need to be addressed as soon as possible. Negative ideas have a way of festering when not addressed. More education is needed or there could be resistance to progress further into the digital world.

Mobile dampening desire for fixed broadband – Pew Research

The Pew Research Centre has unveiled research suggesting home broadband products are becoming less attractive as mobile wins the digital hearts and minds of the US.

Although the laws of physics suggest fixed connectivity, at least when you have a fibre connection, will always be the best gateway to the digital world, progress in the mobile world seems to be dampening consumer enthusiasm.

According to the research, 37% of US adults say they mostly use a smartphone when accessing the internet. For those aged between 18 and 29, 58% of the respondents to the survey suggest mobile devices are the primary gateway to the internet. The numbers are less striking as the ages increase, though all of the demographics demonstrated an increase. Mobile is increasing becoming the primary access point to the digital world.

Pew Research

Although this will be encouraging to MNOs, those telcos who offer fixed products, or a converged service, might be slightly worried.

27% of the respondents to the survey claim they do not subscribe to a home broadband service, with more and more suggesting the reason for this is do to mobile. If they can do everything they need to do through a mobile tariff, why would they double down and make their connected experience more expensive by paying for a home broadband service as well?

45% of those who do not have a home broadband service suggest it is because of mobile, this is a notable increase from the 27% who cited this reason in 2015. 80% of this segment have also said they do not have any interest in purchasing a home broadband service in the future. 17% of US consumers now only have a mobile broadband subscription, increasing from 8% in 2013.

Although some might simply shrug at these data points, what it worth noting is that the smartphone-only users are generally from the lower-income demographics. If there was more of an even spread across all demographics, this would be an interesting trend worth keeping an eye-on, however as it is largely limited to low-income families this is evidence of the digital divide in action.

Interestingly enough, these trends can also be applied to the various different education levels. 26% of adults who have a high school education or less are smartphone only internet users, a number which drops to 16% with some college experience and only 4% of graduates feature in this category.

Although there is a drive from the FCC and government to improve accessibility and affordability of home broadband services in the US to counter the digital divide, research like this suggests the initiatives are not have the desired impact.