Who would you trust with your personal data?

Certainly not the government, on recent form. But is the private sector actually any more trustworthy?

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

Ever since some hapless civil servant at the Inland Revenue decided to send a disk containing the personal details of 25m people to the National Audit Office last year, only for it to get lost in the post (or so we’re told), the security of our personal data has become a hot topic – particularly with the government’s controversial ID card scheme looming on the horizon.

As you’d expect, the whole sorry episode has severely shaken our faith in the system. The majority of us no longer trust institutions and public bodies to look after our data properly, according to a survey published today by the Information Commissioner’s office. Pollster ICM found that eight in ten of us are now being more careful with our personal data – whether that means checking bank statements more regularly or refusing to divulge any details unless we absolutely have to. And no wonder; as deputy commissioner David Smith points out: ‘As more and more personal information is collected, the risk grows that some information will be inaccurate, out of date or end up in the wrong hands.’

But this isn’t just a public sector problem. Private companies are just as likely to lose our data, as Hannaford’s proved this week. The US supermarket chain admitted that hackers had breached its IT system and swiped the credit card details of up to 4m people. Even those shady types who stash their money in a discreet tax haven can’t consider their bank details safe – look at Liechtenstein, where a whistleblower sold a list to the British government.

One of the problems about data is that – well, it’s a bit boring. Everyone in your organisation recognises the value of good, secure, well-maintained data, but most managers would rather pull their own toenails out than have to look after it themselves. What’s more, there’s never much in it for you. If you do a good job, nobody will ever notice, so there’s unlikely to be any reward. But if you ever get it wrong, it can all get very public – and you’ll be for the high jump, quick smart.

This is presumably why new research by QAS, the data integrity arm of credit checking business Experian, found that only half of organisations consider data quality to be a board-level issue – despite the fact that one in four of them are using it on a daily basis to make strategic decisions. The majority are letting middle management look after data, while a mere 9% think it’s an issue for the CEO.

Perhaps not surprising – but our guess is that the beleaguered boss of Hannafords wishes he’d taken a bit more of an interest before this week...

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