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Public attitudes to data and AI

Nicola Archer Director 14 April 2022

Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation in partnership with Savanta

The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) in partnership with Savanta has released a report presenting the findings from the first wave of its brand-new tracker survey.

The survey has been launched to track how attitudes towards data and AI vary over time, in addition to examining the factors that influence trust in data use.

Most people (81%) are comfortable providing personal data about themselves to the NHS to develop new healthcare treatments.

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated the need for new ways of engaging with our digital environment, making 2021 a year of transformation and development for data utilisation.

The report highlights the importance of understanding public opinion on data use, both in context and as something that can shift. Understanding public opinion enables data to be harnessed in a way that addresses public concerns and reflects public values.

In December 2021, the CDEI in partnership with Savanta asked the nation about their understanding, awareness, and attitudes towards data use.

The survey was distributed digitally to a nationally representative sample of 4,000 individuals, in addition to 200 digitally disengaged individuals who were contacted via telephone. This allowed for us to capture a wide range of views and explore how attitudes differ across the nation.

To delve deeper into the drivers of trust in data use and go beyond top-level statistics, the tracker incorporates advanced analytics, including a conjoint experiment and segmentation analysis.

The CDEI hope that the tracker will be a vital resource for those in Government, the wider public sector, civil society, industry and academia, who are seeking to understand public attitudes towards data and AI, and the conditions needed to create a trustworthy environment for data use.

Key findings from the report:

  • People are comfortable with personal data being used for a variety of purposes, particularly when the societal benefit is clear. Most people (81%) are comfortable providing personal data about themselves to the NHS to develop new healthcare treatments, whilst 62% are comfortable sharing their data with the government to deliver public services.
  • Over half of the population (52%) report that they know only a little or nothing about how their personal data is collected and used in their day-to-day lives.
  • The safety and security of personal data was identified as the largest perceived risk of data use amongst the public.
  • Concerns about data use are strongly impacted by the extent to which individuals trust the organisations who are using their information, and the degree of data governance in place.
  • Respondents reported feeling concerned that the benefits of data and AI use will not be felt equally across society. Whilst 31% thought the benefits of data use would be shared equally, 31% of the population disagreed with this statement.
  • More people believe that AI will have a positive impact on large businesses (48%), compared to smaller businesses (39%) and minority groups (26%).

The CDEI is already working with a range of partners to address the public’s concerns and build a trustworthy environment for data and AI use. The findings from the first wave of the PADAI Tracker Survey will act as a baseline for future waves to identify how attitudes change over time.

You can read the full report here.

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