General Election 2019: Are Britain’s political parties underestimating the importance of data privacy?Concerns over data privacy may drive consumers away from online markets. 

Posted on: 06/12/2019

On a crisp refreshing December morning, the United Kingdom awoke to the news that the internet sales of Black Friday were not over! Instead, as the public rose from slumber, ready for a new working week, they were met with the shocking news that the shopping phenomena is set to continue, albeit under a rather different pseudonym; namely, Cyber Monday.

Britain’s resilient consumer base is expected to continue with its online shopping splurge in this new round of sales. Barclaycard has reported a massive 6.5% rise in transaction volumes over the last week, whilst financial analysts forecast consumers to spend an estimated £5.6 billion on Cyber Monday. Roughly the same amount as Ethiopia’s trade deficit.

Such colossal sums can only confirm one long held suspicion: Britain’s shopping habits have become Americanised. We like to spend big, on big shiny things, and like our American friends, we also care greatly about our safety, and security, when shopping online.

A YouGov survey on personal data recently reported that over 87% of its participants considered data privacy as an issue of importance, with only 1% of participants suggesting that it was of no concern to them. However, according to this survey, the public’s confidence in the private sector is at an historic low, with only 10% of participants answering that they trust online retailers, such as Amazon and EBay, with their personal data.

The danger here is clear. If the private sector does not act fast enough, to counter the public’s lack of trust, then it could drive consumers away from digital marketspaces altogether.

This lack of confidence in retailers is not only an issue for businesses, this is very much an issue of national importance, one that should be considered salient by Britain’s political elite. If the British public fails to entrust the private sector with its personal data, whether card information or address details, then the ramifications will be felt across the economy, hitting the public sector hard.

Surprisingly, neither the Conservatives, nor the Labour Party, make any mention of cyber security in their winter election manifesto’s. Whilst the labour party is pledging to provide everyone with full fibre broadband by 2030, they do not consider outright the importance of protecting personal data. This trend continues with Boris Johnson’s Brexit heavy manifesto, that essentially pledges loose, half-hearted structural and architectural adjustments to Britain’s pre-existing data infrastructure.

Such brazen disregard for internet security by our political establishment is concerning. Although we may not consider data privacy as important as say, the NHS, or for some “getting Brexit done,” it is still a matter of nationwide significance. If Britain fails to protect its consumer base, then it risks shooting itself in its proverbial foot.

A principle rule of government is to keep your populous safe from harm, whether physical or financial. It’s time Britain’s political elite awoke to the reality that the British public cares deeply about the safety of their personal data. Both Labour and the Conservative’s should do better, and make pledges to improve data security in both the public and private sectors, or face the consequences later down the line.