A Vodafone-backed study found less than a third of Europeans surveyed are sold on the benefits of big data, as respondents displayed scepticism in trusting operators with their personal information.

The research, carried out for the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications think-tank by market research group TNS Infratest, polled more than 8,000 Europeans across eight countries on the opportunities and risks involved with data analytics.

More than half (51 per cent) of respondents said there were more disadvantages to big data than positives, with an additional 17 per cent undecided. Just 32 per cent said there were benefits.

On another telling metric, only 26 per cent believed that companies overall respect the privacy of their personal data.

Worryingly for Vodafone, and its rivals in the industry, just 18 per cent of respondents trust telecoms operators, lagging significantly behind healthcare institutions (43 per cent), employers (36 per cent) and bank and credit card companies (33 per cent).

The highest level of trust for operators is in Czech Republic, at 26 per cent, compared with 15 per cent in Germany.

One saving grace for telcos is they still rank higher than search engine companies like Google, where trust is at 16 per cent, chat and instant messaging apps (14 per cent), and social media companies like Facebook (11 per cent).

Commentating on the study, Viktor Mayer Schonberger, professor of internet, governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, said the region’s attitudes towards big data is “nothing short of an indictment of current European data protection practises”.

“The public’s lack of trust is dramatic,” he said.

With the survey showing only 20 per cent of respondents knowing how their personal data is collected and stored, he noted that a lack of trust could stem from complex privacy terms implemented by popular web platforms, as well as a lack of control over how the data is used.

The survey indeed did indicate that more people are willing to share data for analysis if there are clear benefits to them and society as a whole.

In regards to improving confidence with organisations, 68 per cent said that simple and clear language should be used in terms and conditions, while 64 per cent said there should be transparency over how data is collected, used and stored.

“The study highlights that Europeans are fundamentally willing to share their data, as long as they see a clear personal or social benefit,” added David Deissner, director, strategy and programs of the Vodafone Institute. “However, if organisations fail to communicate clearly how and why they want to analyse data, people will be less likely to participate in big data initiatives.”