More Americans share social security, financial and medical information than before the pandemic

How has the COVID-19 pandemic has affected consumer attitudes around privacy and trust in institutions, and what has changed since last year?
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

We are becoming more willing to share health-related information about ourselves if it is used to fight COVID-19.

A new survey has shown that consumer willingness to share more sensitive data – social security numbers, financial information and medical information – is greater in 2020 than in both 2018 and 2019

According to the New york, NY-based scientific research practice foundation ARF's (Advertising Research Foundation) third annual Privacy Study has shown that contact tracing is considered a key weapon in the fight against COVID-19.

However, one quarter of the respondents expressed an unwillingness to share information about being exposed to someone with the virus.

ARF surveyed 1,200 Americans in April 2020 to discover their views on trust, privacy and terminology surrounding the pandemic.

This report explores shifts in consumer attitudes towards digital privacy, mobile compared to PC usage, and trust in institutions in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

The survey showed that mask-wearing, though a political touch-point in some parts of the US, is the piece of health information that Americans are most willing to share (83%)

However, almost half (47%) somewhat or strongly disapprove of letting government agencies temporarily gather data from mobile phones to improve compliance with measures to protect public health.

The types of information people are willing and not willing to share have generally remained consistent.

Yet, the willingness to share such information is somewhat greater for people whose jobs have been affected by the pandemic, and significantly greater for those who have known someone with COVID.

Respondents that had their work hours or salary reduced are more willing to share information about a recent doctor's visit (69%) compared to 57% of those who experienced no impact to their job).

More Americans share social security, financial and medical information than before the pandemic zdnet

Whilst most people (92%) would be willing to share their gender or ethnicity (89%) with a website, less than two in five (39%) were willing to share details about their spouse, and only one in three (34%) would share medical information in 2020.

However the percentage of people who would share this information in previous years was 29% in 2018 and 27% in 2019.

Paul Donato, chief research officer, the ARF said: "This year's report is particularly unique because it captures In 2018 and 2019, there was a general decline in the willingness to share personal information, but some of that reversed in the current survey.

It will be interesting to see how these sentiments evolve along with crisis developments, as well as after the upcoming election."

The most trusted sources of information about the virus are doctors (76%), scientific and technical experts (68%), and people like themselves (59%), followed by state and local institutions.

Trust in scientists and technical experts rises with increasing education, and the more serious a threat people regard COVID-19, the more they trust the federal government, Congress, and scientists and technical experts.

The willingness to share could become a security issue for many.

Sharing data to help others could rebound on Americans if the proper checks and balances are not in place to protect their data. Making sure that this data is not mis-used against the population could become a huge issue if there ever is a data breach.

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