Consumers Favor Personal Data in the Cloud, up to a Point: Survey

Despite privacy concerns, consumers are willing to give cloud-based applications access to their personal data, a study reports.

Consumers are interested in the benefits of cloud computing, but are worried about the privacy of their personal information, according to a research report from Fujitsu released Oct. 27.

The report, "Personal Data in the Cloud: A Global Research of Consumer Attitudes," found data privacy was a global concern, with 88 percent of consumers worried about who has access to their data.

"When it comes to data privacy, organizations must think globally but act locally," said Lynn Willenbring, Fujitsu America's senior vice-president of business strategy and global lead of the Business Services group, in a statement.

Presented at the Fujitsu Global Analyst Conference, the study found that 91 percent, of the respondents wanted a system that lets them control how their personal data is used by weighing the risks on a per-application basis. However, most of them were not doing anything currently to protect themselves, according to the study.

Overall, respondents favored applications that clearly benefitted them, such as traffic management systems that aggregated car movements and distributed the information so drivers knew which congested areas to avoid, or turning off lights to save electricity if there was no traffic, according to the study. Centralized medical data was a bit more contentious, with 40 percent of surveyed consumers saying the benefits outweighed the risks, 21 percent considered it too risky, and 39 percent couldn't decide.

"Fears about data privacy are substantial, but many of us are willing to offset them against what we think we will gain," the researchers wrote.

More than 80 percent of consumers polled expected their governments to legislate and regulate access to data, according to the study. They also expected the government to impose penalties on companies that didn't use the data responsibly, according the survey. Despite those expectations, only 20 percent were confident the government would look after their data, researchers said.

"For the full economic and social potential of the global cloud to be realized, governments and businesses must start by understanding the specific needs of their citizens and customers," said Willenbring.

Fujitsu researchers polled 3,000 people in six countries using online bulletin boards, focus groups, and quantitative research, Fujitsu said. Participants were screened to ensure a wide range of age, gender, and level of technology usage, the company said. Participating countries included Australia, Germany, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingom, and the United States.

Data privacy expectations varied between countries. The study found 90 percent of U.S. consumers, want to be asked for permission before their data is shared, but the number dropped to 77 percent among Japanese consumers, according to the report. On the flip side, 72 percent of German consumers expect the government to stay out of their personal data, but only 46 percent of US consumers do.

Initiatives that ultimately would benefit Big Business, such as personalized shopping recommendations, and Big Brother, such as the government maintaining a database of biometric data on its citizens, were negatively viewed by the respondents. About 36 percent of Singapore consumers said he benefits of a personalized shopping experience outweighed the risks and only 17 percent of UK consumers felt that way, according to the results.

Consumers want control and the ability to decide who gets their data and where it's stored, wrote the researchers. How they decide, and the extent to which they are willing to share varied with age, gender and country, according to the report.

Many of the surveyed consumers were not concerned about social network sites or shopping history because the data was not "particularly personal," but information like medical records should not be stored overseas, said the study.

"Some data is global, but we want certain information to be held locally," said the researchers in the report.