European’s attitudes towards the use of personal data

People value having the power to make decisions about the use of their data. Digital services must be recognisable as being fair, and people want to have the power to decide who gets to use the data collected on them, and for what purposes. These are the views held by people in four European countries, according to a survey commissioned by Sitra, a publicly funded research body in Finland

The survey looked at how people are using digital services and whether data leaks and abuses have eroded people’s trust in services that collect and use data.

The survey was conducted in Finland, the Netherlands, France and Germany in December 2018. More than 8,000 respondents took part, with about 2,000 people represented in each country. Highlights of the results are provided below. A summary and the full set of research data can be found here

GDPR rights are quite well-known and the change of actions has already started

Over half of the respondents know about their basic General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rights. Only the right to move any personal data from one system to another is not well-known. One out of five respondents know about it.


One third of the respondents think they have the right to receive a notification from the service provider when their personal data is being sold or handed over to a third party. This unfortunately is not true.


GDPR is affecting people’s behaviour. Only 36 % of the respondents say that it has not affected their behaviour at all.

The lack of trust in service providers keeps people from using digital services

Some 42 % of the respondents fully agree or agree that a lack trust in services providers prevents them from using digital services. The proportion of the respondents who held this view was the highest in Germany (48 %) and the lowest in the Netherlands (38 %).


Data leaks have had a big effect on people’s behaviour

Approximately one in three respondents report having stopped using some services or changed their privacy settings because of misuse. Only 30 % of people are unaffected by the news. People care about the use of their data and they have started to take action. Young people are most likely to act. When 46 % of the 18-24-year-olds make changes to all or most of the services only 23 % of the 55-65-year-olds do the same.


Giving access to personal data and information is not an option in many cases

People are most sceptical to give access to personal data and information on their wealth and spending. 40 % of the respondents say that they would not allow access to their data in any conditions. Some 30 % would not share their health or genetics data. Finns are most willing to provide health information if the data is used for scientific research. 38 % of the Finns would share data when only 17 % or 18 % in other countries would do the same. Some 29 % would appreciate monetary value in exchange of consumption habits or purchases data.


Two out of three respondents want digital services to be recognisable as being fair

Some 66 % of the respondents considered it as an important element in data economy. People need ways to identify services that are reliable and use data fairly.


Having the power to make decisions is important to people

A bit over half of the people say that their trust towards a service provider would increase if they could accept or forbid the selling of their data to a third party. This indicates that trust is build through actions and by giving people the power to influence how their data is used.


Further information

The survey was conducted as part of Sitra’s IHAN® project which aims to build the foundation for a fair data economy and engage people across Europe to create a method for data exchange and to set up European level rules and guidelines for ethical use of data.