New Survey: Online Trust Decreasing Fast

Approximately 80 million Americans were notified of the Anthem health data breach last year. Presently, it is crystal clear that the dual pillars of online privacy and security are having a huge impact on consumer trust. Probably the most startling statistic from a recently released government survey shows the following:

45% of online households reported that these concerns (for online privacy and security) stopped them from conducting financial transactions, buying goods or services, posting on social networks or expressing opinions on controversial or political issues via the Internet, and 30% refrained from at least two of these activities.”

The latest results from a Census Bureau survey appears to be the first large-scale effort to capture consumer sentiment and behavior online after a series of large data breaches by Target, Home Depot and health insurance carrier Anthem. The survey included about 41,000 Americans and was conducted by the Census Bureau for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration last July.

Despite the fact that the results weren’t healthcare-specific, the implications for the emerging digital health ecosystem are significant. Trust in healthcare data (and by extension health-related services online–a.k.a. “digital health”) isn’t just a desirable attribute, it’s the actual product.

Also, the results of the survey point to a wide range of new realities for consumer behavior online:

  • 19% of Internet-using households (almost 19 million Americans) reported being impacted by an online security breach, identity theft or similar malicious activity during the 12 months before the July 2015 survey.
  • 22% of Internet-using households that used a mobile data plan to go online outside the home experienced an online security breach.
  • 63% of Internet-using households cited identity theft as their primary concern.
  • 84% of households had at least one specific privacy or security concern–and 40% had at least two.
  • Credit card/banking fraud was the second concern (45% of Internet-using households).
  • Data collection by online services was the third concern (23% of Internet-using households).

Apart from the fact that the reaction by healthcare entities is predictable, it mirrors that of other consumer brands like Target and Home Depot.

Usually, the official announcement acknowledges the breach and includes an apology and sometimes a statement that “data security is a top priority.” Besides, it often includes some form of free credit card monitoring, and while credit monitoring services may be helpful in alerting consumers to fraudulent credit card activity, it’s still just monitoring for suspicious financial activity.

Considering the above-mentioned, it’s analogous to alerting consumers that their house has been burglarized. Only a few offer the insurance that protects against the financial and legal liability associated with actual identity theft and remediation.

Besides, just like the name implies, credit card monitoring is specific to credit cards and does nothing to notify–let alone protect–against fraudulent use of health data. In 2012, fraud in healthcare was estimated at $272 billion annually.

This potential liability is entirely unknown and lifelong for everyone. The risks are both clinical and financial and include the possible introduction of illnesses, health conditions or data that isn’t accurate and might even be billable.

Anthem is far from alone in the healthcare industry. In just one year–2015–the top 10 data breaches alone amounted to over 111 million records (almost 35% of the entire population).

Usually, the timing of the survey results–and the possible impact on consumer health-related activity online–couldn’t be worse. Just as the healthcare industry is becoming wired for digital data, consumers are beginning to reconsider their online behavior through the very real and harsh lens of privacy and security. While the healthcare industry is poised and eager to promote patient engagement with all this newly digitized data, consumers have now begun to question their online activity generally and specifically the privacy, security and accuracy of their online data. The days of visually verifying an SSL connection as the primary visual cue of online safety and security are quickly becoming a part of ancient internet history.

The Apple corporation makes no exception and it is not immune to high-profile data breaches. In just one case last year, malware was believed to have stolen the login credentials for 225,000 iPhone users.

Since its creation, Apple has updated and expanded their terms of service (TOS) for everything including, of course, their flagship online service iTunes. One of the last TOS versions had over 20,000 words just for shopping and buying mostly digital entertainment through their online storefront.

Health data is the most important data we own–and it’s lifelong. Privacy and security are the catchphrases we all use to assess our safety online. Nevertheless, the real issue is trust.

Some people suggest that online privacy is already dead, however, there is only one thing certain – there is a real consequence to all the data breaches, and consumers are adjusting both their thinking and their online behavior accordingly.

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