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GDPR 4 years on: Do UK consumers trust brands with their data?

Just over four years ago, GDPR legislation was ushered in amidst much fanfare. The Data Protection Act of 2018 was vaunted as a major milestone for consumer protection, but subsequent years have seen a blunting of the teeth of this once landmark law.

In June, the Government unveiled the Data Reform Bill, which is more flexible and less stringent on transgressions than the bill that preceded it. At the unveiling, the Data Reform Bill was described as a policy that will ‘unleash post-Brexit Britain’s potential as a science and technology superpower’.

What impact has this legislative jockeying had on the common UK consumer? What are their attitudes and levels of awareness when it comes to data privacy? Do most UK consumers even realise the unspoken contracts they are entering into when they surrender their data to brands, organisations and indeed their own government?

The WE Communications’ most recent Brands in Motion report The Privacy Mandate: New Normal, New Rules answers these questions and explores global consumers’ attitudes to data privacy.

Key findings

Insights from the research in the UK (which spoke to 505 consumers out of a total global sample of 5,000+) include:

  • 72% of UK consumers are concerned about how brands collect and collate their data. Of all the organisations consumers share their data with, only social media companies are viewed with greater suspicion.
  • 63% say they would stop buying from brands or organisations which do not proactively report data hacks and breaches.
  • 55% of UK consumers say it is very or extremely important for them to know how brands are handling their data.
  • Only 51% of UK respondents feel like their giving up information when they check into a location using a contact tracing technology like QR code - 9% lower than global market average.
  • Government agencies, financial institutions and healthcare providers are deemed to be the most trustworthy organisations when it comes to how they handle data.
  • That said, UK consumers have lower trust in how government uses their data than any other market that took part in the survey.

Two conflicting trends

The findings of this research would suggest two conflicting trends are emerging in parallel.

Increasingly, UK consumers have both higher expectations of, yet less trust in the organisations with which they share their personal data. In most categories, UK consumers are less trusting of the institutions with which they share data than the global average.

However, this culture of suspicion seems to jar with a clear knowledge gap around what constitutes ‘sharing personal data’. For example, the research shows that barely half (51%) of UK consumers realise they share personal data with commercial organisations when they use technology such as QR codes, a figure, once again, way down on the global average.

It would appear there is a clear ‘messaging gap’ around data privacy that UK brand communicators need to address. A lack of understanding of the data implications of physical behaviour is hampering brands’ ability to convey exactly what they doing to safeguard personal data privacy.

85% of UK consumers claim to understand that businesses that collect their data will sell it to third parties. This knowledge base should be viewed as a communications opportunity. Brands need use this to tell a better story that showcases how data is used across consumer markets to build deeper, timely and more personalized experiences. The very type of experiences that that build brand loyalty, trust and affinity amongst consumers, something all communications teams are continually striving for.

Legislative tweaks appear to have undermined consumer confidence and engagement with the issue. As with many similar topics in 2022, there is a clear role for brand communicators to play in bringing governmental legislation closer to the realities of consumer life. As an industry, we need to build a stronger narrative around the art of the possible when data and trust come together.


The global whitepaper spoke to over 5,000 consumers in six international markets (UK, USA, Australia, China, India and Singapore) and explored the expectations of global consumers when it comes to how they want brands to handle and process their data to improve their experiences and interactions and how communicators need to react to this when delivering campaigns.

Written by Ryan Sketchley, editorial strategist at agency WE Communications

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