Study: Consumers would trade privacy for convenience

While privacy remains a major concern for people around the world, a majority of consumers would share personal data if they knew the information was securely protected and if sharing it would make their lives easier, according to Unisys' Global Study on the Public's Perceptions about Identity Management.

The study, released this week, was independently conducted by the Ponemon Institute to capture the perceptions of individuals in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America on methods and technologies for managing identity within business and government organizations, Unisys said. In addition, the study looked at how individuals' sense of privacy affects their views on new ID management technologies such as biometrics.

"The No. 1 issue we were interested in exploring and we were interested to learn about was attitudes in different regions of the world regarding authentication technology use and acceptability," said Mark Cohn, vice president for homeland security solutions at Unisys.

"There have been a lot of concerns about privacy and a lot of issues where businesses and government have been trying to deal with authentication problems but in sort of an isolated way," he said. What Unisys wanted to know was if there were "some kind of convergence and interoperability standards, would people be comfortable or uncomfortable with that."

Cohn said Unisys' thesis was that a single, general strategy for ID authentication that could be adopted by businesses and governments -- and was interoperable worldwide -- would be more efficient than the varying systems now in place.

"There's an opportunity to save money, do a better job with security and be more convenient for consumers if people are comfortable with a convergence study," he said.

What the study found was that in every region of the world, people would accept an identification strategy such as the use of a multipurpose ID or smart card that could serve as a driver's license and an ATM card and could be used to pay tolls or for border crossings, Cohn said. A person's health records could also be put on it, he said.

"So it's a secure ID that can store multiapplication data for multiple purposes," Cohn said. "And they put right on there digital certificates -- PKI certificates -- for encryption and authentications. So now that same card can be used for Internet commerce to prove you are who you claim to be. This card could be used for 14 different purposes. We've issued about 17 million to people in Malaysia who voluntarily choose what they want their card to be used for. Other countries are doing it as well, but these systems are not interoperable."

Unisys also asked people about who they trusted to protect their privacy, who they trusted to be ID card issuers in different regions of the world and what technology, such as biometrics, would they be willing to use, he said.

"We asked at what level are you comfortable having your fingerprints taken, because there are a lot of cultures where it was thought there were a lot of objections to that," Cohn said. "But we found that those objections aren't as prevalent as we thought."

The study also found that 46 percent of respondents trust banking institutions to issue and manage a multi-purpose identity credential, and 45 percent said they favor establishing a government agency to issue such cards. By contrast, only 40 percent said they trust the police to issue identity credentials, and 38 percent said they favor having a private company issue ID cards.

More than 68 percent of respondents believe it is important for the credential to work across international borders.

North American and Asia-Pacific consumers were willing to share more personal data -- and preferred doing so with a government agency rather than a business -- than Europeans and Latin Americans. In contrast, respondents in Latin America were more willing to share personal data with a business rather than government.

Additional findings on biometrics include:

-- Eighty-two percent said convenience -- not having to remember separate passwords or other log-in data -- is the top reason they support biometrics. And more than three-quarters of consumers cited speeding up the ID verification process as their main reason for backing biometrics.

-- Seventy-one percent of consumers from North America support the use of biometrics for ID verification -- more than any other region -- followed by 69 percent of Europeans and 68 percent of residents of Asia-Pacific. Only 58 percent of Latin Americans support biometrics for identity verification.

-- Thirty-two percent said voice recognition is their preferred authentication method, followed by fingerprints (27 percent), facial scans (20 percent), hand geometry (12 percent) and iris scans (10 percent) -- perhaps reflecting more consumer awareness of, and experience with, voice and fingerprint biometrics.

North Americans are more leery of facial scans than residents of other regions, with just 10 percent citing that method, compared with 27 percent in Europe, 23 percent in Asia-Pacific and 20 percent in Latin America.

Of those respondents who do not favor biometrics for identity verification, almost three-quarters are suspicious of the technology, and 62 percent said they prefer nonbiometric identification methods.

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