The data-trust deficit | KPMG Global
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The data-trust deficit

The data-trust deficit

Polls conducted by KPMG reveal a desire for more online government services, but a reluctance to share personal info electronically | 🕒 5-min read.


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Recent polls conducted by KPMG reveal a desire among citizens for more online services from government, but a reluctance to share personal information electronically.

As governments work to improve and modernize service quality and delivery, the need to access more personal information has increased. This has coincided with the finding that while a majority of citizens feel government should be doing more to move services online, more quickly, they remain uncomfortable with sharing personal information with the public sector.

KPMG Twitter polls

A recent series of online Twitter polls conducted by KPMG’s Global Government and Public Sector network, targeting government stakeholders in the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Australia and India, explored public attitudes to sharing personal information with government online, the digitizing of services, and trust in public sector data security. The results show a conflicted response from citizens accustomed to the conveniences of the digital age—provided predominantly by private companies—but skeptical of government’s ability to keep information safe.

The polls revealed key insights for government, and identified an opportunity to address the deficit in public trust that currently surrounds online information sharing. It seems that, while work remains to persuade citizens that sharing personal information online is not only safe, but beneficial, government can make a clearer articulation of the “pay-off” for citizens.

Desire for convenience

Innovation in customer service technology in the private sector has left citizens expecting more from every provider, including government. In fact, the KPMG Twitter polls show that a majority of respondents feel the biggest opportunities for the public sector in D&A lie in elevating customer service.

41 percent of respondents regard governments as “still too cautious,” with a further 39 percent saying governments “are not doing enough” to follow the private sector’s lead. Simply put, citizens today now expect the convenience, speed, and personalization, they get from private companies.

A lack of trust

Why are citizens nervous about government use of data? An OECD report due later this month points to declining trust in national governments across a range of its member countries, a downturn attributed partly to nervousness about the way governments are using their personal information2.

The poll seems to confirm that this general mistrust extends to government’s ability to respect information security protocols (of course, repeated, high profile security breaches3 also don’t help). 37 percent of respondents answered they believe information security to be the “biggest challenge” faced by the public sector in collecting and using data.

The polls also found that 67 percent of respondents think online personalization “sounds creepy,” and that a further 48 percent would prefer not to interact with virtual agents when accessing government services. In the private sector, consumers are becoming accustomed to dealing with virtual agents or “chatbots,”4 and provided they deliver good service, are satisfied. So why not trust automated services from the public sector? There are a number of potential reasons, including a latent bias, born of the distrust mentioned above, or maybe a previous bad experience.

In addressing these attitudes, government can communicate best practice and success stories more strategically, emphasizing the value proposition put forward by data sharing, and to reassure citizens that security breaches remain the exception.

Greater transparency required

The large percentage of respondents who clicked “unsure” or “hard to say” suggests many citizens feel they don’t have enough information to make a decision about what governments are doing with data.

An opportunity therefore exists for governments to pursue an agenda of transparency, helping citizens understand how the public sector is using their information. Facebook, for example, has grown to embody many attributes KPMG has deemed key to digital trust - reliability, credibility, transparency, integrity and security5, and the organization remains in constant communication with its users regarding data security, and use of personal data.

Communicating value

The final poll in the series asked respondents whether they would be open to sharing more data with government if it would lead to better services, to which a large majority replied ‘no’ (52 percent of those polled, versus 28 percent ‘yes’).

But what about the millions of people who sign in to other websites daily, readily exchanging personal information for access to content, services, and convenience? Do they just trust the private sector more? Interestingly, most simply don’t read the terms and conditions6, perhaps because the perceived value proposed by private companies simply outweighs the desire for a full understanding of the agreements they enter into. For governments, the trade-off is more complex, and currently, the services or content offered in exchange for the public’s personal information are perceived (rightly or wrongly) as less immediately “valuable”.

Government has the opportunity to make up ground in reassuring constituents their data is safe, and overcoming this fear will likely become a top priority for the immediate future. Citizens of the pay-off from data sharing with a clear and renewed articulation of its value proposition. And, conversely, citizens must approach the table with more of an open mind.


Chris Spavin leads the marketing and communications for KPMG’s Global Government & Public Sector practice. His experience features a geographic and cultural blend of traditional marketing communications and in-depth digital/social media across professional services and non-profit/government sectors.

Leah Fegan is marketing manager at KPMG International for the Global Government & Public Sector practice and has over 10 years of experience in marketing communications in the professional services and non-profit sectors.


1KPMG’s Global Government & Public Sector network conducted a series of seven polls on Twitter relating to public trust and government use of data between October 2016 and February 2017. The polls received a cumulative 107,924 votes and targeted users in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany and India with interest in government and civic affairs. Votes are casted anonymously.

2OECD (2017), Trust and Public Policy: How Better Governance Can Help Rebuild Public Trust, OECD Public Governance REviews, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx/

3Association, P. (13 September 2016). Government breached personal data security 9,000 times in a year, watchdog reveals. Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

4 Noto, G. (5 December 2016). Customers Don’t Prefer Chatbots Over Humans Yet-But They Will, Says Survey. Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

5 Rast, C. (28 October 2016). Building trust in D&A. Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

6 Berreby, D. (3 March 2017). Click to agree with what? No one reads terms of service, studies confirm. Retrieved 31 March 2017, from

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