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Digital trust in businesses remains fragile as UK consumers increasingly aware of data misuse

Businesses are struggling to maintain trust in a digital world, as 88% of Brits would not use services or purchase products from an organisation they distrust, and 64% have serious reservations about using a brand they haven’t heard of before, according to new research from identity firm Okta and YouGov.

The Okta Digital Trust Index, which surveyed 13,163 office workers, including 2,041 in the UK, finds that trust is hard won but easily lost today, and that one small mistake could lead to irreparable reputational damage. Nearly two-fifths (39%) of Brits say they have lost trust in a company due to a data breach or misuse of data they have heard about, with this figure even higher in the US (56%) and Australia (40%). Following this: 

  • Over half (52%) of UK workers changed their user settings
  • 47% permanently stopped using the company’s services
  • 36% deleted their account with the company
  • 33% deleted the app from their device

These concerns also deter individuals from using a company’s services or buying a product in the first place. Over half (51%) admit to having concerns about data breaching when browsing online and 47% have reservations toward websites that request too much personal information. The pandemic also appears to have heightened awareness of the importance of digital data; 44% have seen more media coverage on the topic in light of COVID-19, leading 40% of Brits to become more cautious about what they are sharing. This is a common theme around the globe, with a large number of office workers from every country surveyed admitting to being more guarded with their data, particularly those based in Australia (57%), the US (47%), the Netherlands (47%) and Spain (46%).

Interestingly, younger UK respondents have a lower tolerance for poor data handling and security from the brands they shop with. Some 63% of 18-24-year-olds admit to having permanently stopped using a firm’s services following a breach, versus 42% of 35-44-year-olds.

“Younger age groups having lower tolerance for poor security and privacy ethics may be unexpected by many, but in actual fact, these generations have grown up online and consequently have a good understanding of the value and impact of data loss,” comments Ben King, CSO EMEA at Okta. “Young people will soon become the decision makers of the future, so it’s important for businesses to make preparations now to ensure cybersecurity is at the heart of operations.”

Building trust

Almost two-fifths (39%) of Brits admit that service reliability is the criteria most likely to make them trust a digital brand. Security is also key: a quarter (25%) say that having secure log-in options, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), would help them nurture trust. This necessity for security is further felt by respondents in Australia (24%), the US (23%), Germany (22%) and the Netherlands (22%).

“We have seen with this study that trust is becoming a strategic must-have for businesses that want to operate in today’s highly competitive, digital-first landscape,” adds King. “Organisations need to ensure that they are paying attention to what consumers want the most, which is service reliability and optimal security. Once they’ve gained that trust, brands should be in no doubt that they must work hard to retain it, and that effective cybersecurity is key to them doing so.”

Most trustworthy of all digital channels in the UK are government websites (41%), with this felt equally by respondents in Australia (41%) and the Netherlands (37%). 

“It is so interesting to see that Brits place government websites as most trustworthy,” says Dr. Jessica Barker, cybersecurity expert and author. “There is a general consensus that our trust in the government is declining, but there is a difference between politicians and political parties, and government services, linked to the public sector. This research shows that people trust the institutions of the government and the public sector. Despite initial concerns over handling of citizens’ COVID-19 and personal data, there haven’t been any major breaches to date, and continued scrutiny appears to be driving improved standards of data security.”

But are organisations doing enough?

With an army of new threats, businesses are faced with the challenge of protecting their remote workers amid a sharp increase in cyber risks as a result of the pandemic. Since working from home, Brits have become more wary of threats such as data breaches (34%) and phishing emails (30%). Globally, 10% of office workers admit to having been the victim of a data breach or cyberattack during the pandemic.

To tackle the reported rise in cybersecurity issues linked to the pandemic, 29% of organisations have implemented new security applications and technology, such as multi-factor authentication, and 24% have enacted more internal security training. However, 34% of workers admit to not knowing if their employer has done anything to protect them from cyberthreats, and 22% say their organisation has not undertaken any new measures.

“It’s possible that businesses are making changes to their security without communicating them to employees, hence the lack of awareness,” concludes Dr. Barker. “But as these findings show, people don’t trust based on words, but on actions. This highlights the importance of trust in security culture. Trust can take years to build and minutes to destroy, and so the need for organisations to be transparent with employees, customers and the media has never been more evident.”