Six months after the application in all the European countries of the new European regulation GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), PHD Italy presented new research, ‘The unbearable lightness of data’, to investigate the behaviour of Italians towards the protection of personal data. This new research confirms the contradiction of Italians in the matter of online privacy – worried, but not particularly careful about protection; aware of the commercial value of personal data, but little knowledge on the actual use. Eager, however, to have greater control on the data provided, because they are not convinced of the transparency of the companies using it.

The unknown GDPR

The research highlights the limited knowledge of the new European regulation on the processing of data and a lack of awareness of its importance. Almost half of Italians – in fact, 44% of respondents –  have never heard of GDPR, and another 27% have heard but do not know what it is. Fifty-five per cent of the sample correctly identifies it as the “new European regulation on the protection of personal data”, but the remaining 45% is split between those who refer to it as the “new authority for privacy” (12%), the “new operating system that protects privacy” (9%), “a corporate strategy to gain access to personal data for marketing purposes” (6%), a new software to protect online privacy (5%) and those who do not have their own idea (13%).

The necessity and utility of the measure, moreover, is not unanimously agreed upon: compared to 32% and 27% of respondents, who consider, respectively, “a useful tool for the protection of personal privacy” and “a necessary tool to put a stop to the repeated violations of our privacy”, for the 24% of the sample it is only “a formality” and for 17%, an “unnecessary complication of bureaucracy”.

The value and power of data

More than seven out of 10 Italians (73%, up from 70% in the previous survey) declared awareness of the commercial value of personal data, 50% (six months ago it was 47%) agree with the definition of “exchange currency for free content on the web”. But in answer to the question, “How would you like to be rewarded for sharing your habits?”, the majority of respondents (62% of the sample) chose “money”. Next to the value of the data is the power of it: 59% of Italians said they are convinced that a misuse of personal information can manipulate democracy.

Data and transparency: a lack of confidence in the companies

What do Italians expect from companies? One in two (54%) believe that the institutions are responsible for the protection of personal data and privacy, while 66% believe the government should intervene more in the regulation and 68% would like to have more control over the information that it provides to companies. Almost half of Italians (45% of the sample, an increase of over 20 points compared to 31% six months ago) believe that their purchasing choices are influenced by the level of transparency with which the data is processed by the product or service’s company.

Worried, but lazy

Concern and awareness on the issue of personal data does not result in the adoption of behaviors that contain risk. About six out of 10 Italians (59% of the sample compared to 62% six months ago) say they are concerned about privacy online and seven out of 10 (71% versus 67% six months ago) said that their concern has significantly increased. Only 52%, however, define themselves as “very attentive” to the protection of their privacy online. Forty-two per cent of the sample admits that sharing personal information on the internet scares them, but a similar proportion (40%), when evaluating their consent to the processing of personal data, declares that they click “allow” after reading the consent message quickly or not reading it at all. Only one in five (22%) describes themselves as “always aware” with regard to the processing of their personal data.

Additionally, the majority of the sample declares to have read “only some” (42%) or even “only the first” (28%) of the GDPR emails received in the last six months.

Regarding the management and exchange of personal data, people are most concerned about identity theft (77%), computer fraud and “phishing” (76%) and improper use of images of children (74%). Yet, when investigating the measures taken in the last six months to protect their privacy, it turns out that even one of the most well-known tools, incognito browsing, is used by little more than 25% of people.

The four cluster

The research shows that we can group respondents into four main profiles: Protagonists (16%), Antagonists (28%), Extras (29%) and Spectators (27%).

In the context of the so-called “data economy”, much like a film in which we are all called to play a role, the Protagonists have gained a high level of awareness on the topic, are involved in the management of their personal data, and are aware of the strategies and tools available to protect their privacy.

The Antagonists are very concerned about the management of their personal data, but are unable to or feel that they can’t take actions. They are suspicious, anxious and feel they have no control.

The Extras are distant from the subject, and consider it to be a question only of technology. They are optimistic, and don’t pay close attention to the progress of GDPR or related strategies.

The Viewers think that the topic of data protection isn’t their problem. They want more control, but they take no action.

Alessandro Lacovara, Managing Director at PHD Italy, says, “Seventy-three per cent of the respondents said they know that their personal data has a commercial value, and 62% know what they want in exchange for their personal data: cash. Ninety euros per month is the average price that Italians would ask for in exchange for a company to ‘spy on’ their purchasing habits, and the rates rise to over €100 to be monitored for medical information.”

He adds, “Too little? We leave tracks online every day, almost without realizing it, and technology and companies use it without extraneous effort. But this silent work is changing everything, and dealing with marketing and communication without understanding the weight of the data given is – today and tomorrow –  unsustainable. Brands must increasingly focus on how to gain the trust of consumers in regards to the management of personal data, and this will determine the failure or success of the companies in the near future.”