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Online consumers not scared off by cyber criminals

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Online consumers not scared off by cyber criminals

Research from BT with support from the University of Plymouth and part funded by the DTI, indicates UK citizens are not ICT risk-averse

UK consumers are not as risk-averse when it comes to using online services as previously thought, according to recent research conducted by BT.  Despite daily warnings about security threats and cyber-criminals, people are willing to take risks online, as long as they feel informed, and it is clear how consequences will be addressed.

According to the findings from the Trustguide report1, which was a collaborative research project by BT with support from the DTI, people use specific online services not because they trust them, but because they believe the benefits outweigh the risks.  Government and private industry must therefore take responsibility for educating and reassuring the public that safeguards are in place, if they are to succeed with e-Government and e-Commerce initiatives. 

As a long-standing target for fraudulent activity, the banking industry has been particularly robust in communicating security measures to customers using internet banking services and, in many cases, guaranteeing to refund victims.  Consequently, it has been successful in attracting customers online. Recent figures from Apacs2 show that the number of UK customers using Web banking services has outstripped those using telephone banking for the first time.

Based on the research, the Trustguide report outlines a set of guidelines to inform policy making and service development for ICT delivered services.  In addition to enabling better-informed decision-making through education, and advising users of restitution and guarantee measures should something go wrong, the report highlights the need for greater honesty and transparency of data usage by service providers. 

Hazel Lacohée, principal researcher at BT Group's Chief Technology Office and main author of the report, said: “People are sceptical about technology, and rightfully so.  However, if empowered and allowed to experiment in a ‘safe' environment prior to engaging in a potentially risky transaction, they tend to adopt solutions and services that are socially beneficial. 

“Citizens are also aware of the large-scale data collection that occurs through online services and are mistrustful of it.  It's their data and they want to control it, so transparency on this is essential to increase confidence.”

A final requirement identified is the need for openness from the service providers.  Unsubstantiated claims of security and protection do not instil trust. Providers must be clear about the benefits and issues related to a service.

Andy Phippen, lecturer in socio-technical studies, University of Plymouth and co-author, said: “While legislative measures have their role to play in helping to protect consumers, it's not enough.  Education and assurance are the foundation stones upon which trust is built and understanding the ‘risk-trust-privacy-responsibility-restitution' equation is fundamental to increasing confident use of online services and emerging technologies. 

The change over will not happen over night, but addressing all of these factors will help to enhance overall cyber trust and lead to the acceptance of an ICT-enabled future.”

Trustguide takes a “citizen-centric” approach to understanding the beliefs and needs of users in relation to trust, security and privacy in ICT mediated activities, covering a variety of related topics3.  To download a copy of the report go to: or

1. Trustguide is a collaborative research project between BT Group Chief Technology Office Research & Venturing and part funded by the DTI Sciencewise programme.  The research seeks to build on the previous government sponsored Foresight Cyber Trust and Crime Prevention project.

The qualitative research comprised 29 focus groups conducted among selected groups across the UK: students, general public, farmers, SMEs, expert groups (corporates, academics and researchers engaged in this area), ICT novices, e-government service providers and school children. Further information on the research groups is available in the TrustGuide report.

2. The Apacs figures for the first half of 2006 show that Web banking users have almost doubled since 2002 and 16.9 million adults - over a third of the adult population in the UK - now use online banking services.

3. The research project, which was completed in October 2006, covered a variety of topics: Trust versus risk; E-Commerce: Risk and responsibility; Factors that impact on risk taking; Mitigated risk; ID cards: an aid to security?; Use of biometric data; Privacy and health information; E-Government and Public Sector IT; Awareness and education; and Use of public access terminals.


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