Low levels of consumer trust in how businesses manage and secure customer data could put companies at risk, according to a study by Symantec.
Nearly four out of five people in Britain believe their personal information is insecure in the hands of the companies that hold the data, according to a recent survey by Symantec and online price comparison site, Moneysupermarket.com.
The research was commissioned by Symantec to assess attitudes towards online risks from both a consumer and business perspective.
An even higher number, 89 per cent of respondents, believes that reckless or repeated data breaches should be a criminal matter and punishable by imprisonment, with four out of five people saying it should be a 'one strike and you're out' rule when it comes to data loss.
This low level of consumer trust could have a vast impact on the reputation and brand value of a company, when taking into account the response from businesses.
Not only did the majority of companies polled (76 per cent) expect to lose customers if a data loss or breach occur, about half of them expected it to be immediate.
"These statistics are very concerning for business, particularly in the current unstable market conditions," said John Brigden, senior vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Symantec.
"Not only do they risk losing large numbers of customers following an incident of data loss, but almost 60 per cent of companies said it would be a lot harder to attract new customers once the reputation had been tarnished."
A further 75 per cent of consumers are concerned by how much information companies hold about them, whether online or offline, and a staggering 93 per cent will not provide personal details to a company which has past problems of losing data.
When questioned on the trustworthiness of public companies, half of those polled rated the Government as the least trustworthy organisation.
"Today we all have an enormous digital footprint, whether we realise it or not," said Brigden. "Every time we shop online, bank online or increasingly simply surf the web, we are giving away our personal information, and clearly people are concerned how businesses and government handle that data."
Despite their strong views, people are not careful when it comes to protecting their own information, with 73 per cent of respondents not checking what happens to their credit card information when it leaves their sight and 18 per cent not verifying the security of websites they use.
When they do verify a website's security, two thirds of respondents have indicated they check for the padlock, 30 per cent use security software, 27 per cent only use websites from a trusted brand and 11 per cent follow friends' recommendations of safe sites.
Additionally, 89 per cent would share their name and 23 per cent their date of birth with a complete stranger. Respondents estimated the monetary value of their name at £1 and date of birth at £100, when in fact their full identity is worth a mere 50p, according to Symantec's latest Internet Security Threat Report, released in April this year.
Even though half those surveyed voted online payments as the most likely risk of losing data, the credit crunch has forced the vast majority to turn to the Internet to shop, with 84 per cent confirming that they surf the web for the best deals.
Seventy five per cent are more likely to shop online for items now than they were six months ago, which is a clear indication that consumers are first and foremost concerned about price – and not necessarily for their safety.
Clare Francis, from price comparison site moneysupermarket.com, said: "Over the past year we have seen an incredible upturn in applications for current accounts and credit cards on our site. However, it is when people start using these market-leading debit and credit cards that they need to be vigilant with their information. It is great to be earning 8.5 per cent on your current account or paying no interest for 12 months on credit card purchases, but you need to look after your personal information to ensure other people can't start using your details."
Brigden added: "While fingers have been pointed at organisations that have lost customer data recently, it is also the responsibility of consumers to protect themselves when it comes to data risk – a sentiment that is shared by 84 per cent of respondents. No security measure can be fully effective unless people are more responsible and recognize that they too have a vital part to play in protecting their information."
Based upon the research, Symantec has put together the below consumer personality profiles for which most of the population fall into, Wealthy Warriors, Cagey Crunchers, Serene Surfers, Restless Retributionists and Optimistic Ostriches.