We have today published the findings from the first wave of our new tracker survey, which will be repeated at consistent intervals to enable changes in attitudes to data and AI to be monitored for the first time. Understanding how public perceptions vary over time will help to facilitate responsible data-driven innovation that improves citizens’ lives and drives growth.
The importance of public engagement
Public trust is crucial if we are to unlock the benefits associated with the use of data and AI. Without it, organisations lack the confidence needed to invest in data-driven solutions, while citizens are wary of opting-in to data sharing schemes and adopting data-driven technologies. In order to gain public support, data and data-driven technologies must be used in a way that addresses the public's concerns. This is why all of our work at the CDEI is underpinned by public engagement. The survey we’re launching today - which is the first globally to track how attitudes towards data and AI vary over time - provides novel insights about the way the UK public perceive and interact with data and AI. The findings will inform our hands-on work with partners, in the public sector and beyond, to develop data and AI governance mechanisms that support responsible innovation, and incorporate the elements of governance that are most important to building a trustworthy environment.
We conducted the first wave in December 2021. It was sent digitally to a nationally representative sample of 4,000 individuals, as well as to 200 individuals without access to the internet via telephone. We incorporated advanced analytics, including a conjoint experiment, to understand the factors that influence decisions about data sharing. These insights will inform our ongoing work to support Mission 1 of the National Data Strategy; to unlock the value of data across the economy. Additionally, we conducted an attitudinal segmentation, as well as an analysis of media coverage about the use of data and AI in the 6 months preceding fieldwork.
What were the key findings from the first wave?
- The public are comfortable with data about them being used for a range of purposes, particularly when the benefit to society is clear. COVID-19, health, the economy and climate change are areas where people feel the use of data presents the greatest opportunities.
- People report feelings of uncertainty about current data practices, and fairly limited knowledge regarding how data about them is used in their day-to-day lives. Over half of the population (52%) report that they know only a little or nothing about how data about them is used.
- The safety and security of personal data was identified as the largest perceived risk of data use amongst the public.
- The public are concerned that the benefits of data and AI use will not be felt equally. More people believe that AI will have a positive impact on large businesses (48%), compared to smaller businesses (39%) and minority groups (26%).
- Concerns about data use are strongly impacted by the extent to which individuals trust the organisation using data about them, and the degree of data governance in place.
- Negative media stories about data and data-driven technologies were recalled more frequently than positive stories. Negative stories recalled by respondents focused on data breaches and data misuse, while positive data-related stories focused on the use of data in the COVID-19 response.
We already have a range of projects underway that will help to address the public’s concerns. For example, respondents reported feeling concerned about the safety and security of data; we are currently collaborating with the US on a prize challenge to accelerate the development of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs), which can enable sensitive personal or commercial data to be analysed at scale, while protecting privacy and confidentiality. A significant portion of respondents also felt that organisations could be more transparent and accountable when using data and data-driven technologies; we have been working with the Cabinet Office’s Central Digital and Data Office to develop and pilot one of the world's first standards for algorithmic transparency, which will help public sector organisations to be meaningfully transparent about how data-driven tools are being used to support decisions.
In the coming weeks, we will discuss the findings with those working in government, the wider public sector, academia and industry. We hope that the insights generated will inform the development of policy and regulation, and enable the effectiveness of interventions to be monitored. They could also prove valuable to those in industry seeking to design data-driven products and services in a way that is trustworthy.
In line with our commitment to transparency, the raw survey data from the first wave will be published in the coming weeks. To stay up-to-date with the results of future waves, please register your interest here. If you’d like to talk to us about the survey, or about our public engagement work more broadly, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.