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Which? calls for consumers to be given more control over their personal data

Companies and organisations should help consumers better understand how their data is being collected and used

Personal data is driving the digitisation of the products and services we use. However, too often, consumers are unaware of how data use affects their lives, leading to suspicion and doubt over potentially useful innovations, according to a new Which? report.

Forget old-fashioned paper forms and banking slips – you can now complete previously laborious tasks with just a click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. The digital revolution is here.

Our latest report aims to shake up the current data landscape, and give more control back to people over how their information is being used by the companies and organisations they interact with. Watch the video below for details of our research.

Protect your smart home data – see our top tips on how to keep your smart home devices safe and secure. Or, take our Data Dozen quiz to discover which of the 12 data profiles you fit into. 

Personal data: what’s the cost?

Consumer data has become one of the most pressing issues facing us today. It is changing how we live our lives, but even supposedly free digital services can come with a potential cost – our data.

Major technology companies, such as Facebook and Google, have hit the headlines about how they manage the data that powers their multi-billion-dollar corporations.

As we recently revealed in a Which? investigation, even the products we buy and use at home can now harvest vast tranches of information about us, often without us even knowing it.

With companies and organisations now processing unprecendented amounts of personal data, our new report shows that many consumers feel uneasy and powerless over the impact it has in our daily lives.

The report features extensive interviews with consumers over how they feel about data use. We found that people are often pragmatic about this, particularly if they see a benefit to them. But there are still significant concerns, with most (81%) saying they’re worried about their data being sold to third parties.

Our new consumer data report

‘Control, Alt or Delete? – The future of Consumer data’ reveals a widespread sense of disempowerment. Many consumers are unsure of either the impact that data collection, transfer and sharing has on them, or whether it’s worth the trade-off for the benefits they receive.

The report will be launched today, at a conference held at the Which? London office, hosted by Which? Computing editor Kate Bevan and Which? chairman Tim Gardam. The report will be debated by a panel of experts drawn from across the industry, including journalists, academics and representatives from corporations such as Facebook.

Our key data asks

More transparency: People must be given a clearer picture on the impact of data collection and sharing on their lives. This information must be delivered in a timely manner that’s sensitive to the context of what they’re doing. We’re calling on the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to take a lead on driving this.

Digital advertising: ‘People-based’ marketing is now big business, particularly with huge and powerful companies such as Facebook and Google. We’re calling on the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to urgently review this emerging advertising market to better understand the impact on consumers.

Tech check: We’re calling on the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to review how technology is used to move consumer data around networks and systems. While we want to support technology and innovation, we also want oversight and enforcement for when things go wrong.

How to protect your data privacy

Check your settings: Investigate the menus or settings to see whether you can control what data is collected and shared. For example, the Android and iOS operating systems now enable you to set what kinds of data individual apps can access.

‘Dirty’ your data: We use fake data in our testing, and you can too. Use a ‘spam’ email to create non-essential accounts. Known as ‘dirtying’ your data, this process means the impact on you is minimal if something does go wrong.

Set secure passwords: Securing your personal data is as important as maintaining your privacy. Make sure you set strong, unique and memorable passwords for all your accounts and devices. Find out how in our in-depth guide to setting passwords.

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