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Most Americans are willing to forego personal data privacy to combat the spread of COVID-19

A KPMG survey also found that baby boomers were more to allow employers to take their temperature, compared to Gen X and millennials.


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Three in four Americans (75%) are thinking more about data privacy issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic, yet most are willing to share their personal information to keep others safe and to return to work faster, according to a newly-released pulse survey of 1,000 workers by KPMG.

The survey revealed that a significant number–89% of Americans–would allow places/employers to take their temperature to help keep people safe; 85% said would share their COVID-19 diagnosis with their employer to get back to work more quickly.

Additionally, 67% of Americans said they would share their lifestyle information (specifically, what could contribute to COVID-19 exposure) with their employer to help get back to work faster. And 67% also said they would share their personal location data if it could help the country track COVID-19 cases.

While consumer data privacy was a hot topic long before the global pandemic, the current situation has opened the door for conversation around how data can be used to keep people safe, KPMG said. As businesses reopen, leaders will need to think through their approaches to protecting the increasing amount of personal data being collected.

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With a U.S. unemployment rate of 13.3% in May, it is no surprise that Americans are willing to forgo personal data if it means getting back to work more quickly, the firm said.

However, the survey found a notable difference between younger and older workers’ sentiments on return to work strategies. For example, 94% of baby boomers said they would definitely or maybe have their temperatures taken compared with 87% of millennials.

KPMG said it is also hearing from clients that older workers are more inclined than younger workers to share their personal data and participate in these return-to-work strategies.

“As organizations reopen, executives will face the challenge of rolling out strategies, policies and technologies that match the expectations of their unique workforce,” said Steve Stein, principal, and co-lead of KPMG Privacy Services, in a statement. “While there is no one size fits all approach, it is imperative that organizations design solutions that account for short term and longer term implications of what data is collected, how it is used, and how it is protected–whether that’s through the design of health data polling, more comprehensive testing, or more comprehensive contact tracing.”

Regulatory considerations

Beyond sentiment and consent, while designing technology-based solutions, organizations will also need to consider several existing policies, laws, and regulations such as those related to health data, and OSHA guidance, among others, the firm noted.

For example, is the back-to-work solution compliant with legislation such as the American Disabilities Act Title II requirements relating to website and app accessibility?

Ultimately, organizations need to consider the potential disparate impact of back-to-work policies on a diverse workforce, KPMG said.

“COVID-19 is creating a new wave of data privacy considerations for US organizations–who largely have had limited experience with these issues,” said Orson Lucas, principal, and co-lead of KPMG Privacy Services, in a statement. “Executives will need to right-size and mature privacy programs to help organizations today and in the future, because privacy issues are being amplified as a result of COVID-19.”

KPMG recently launched a Restarting America framework to help organizations safely reopen workplaces.

The findings in this report are based on the results of a survey of 1,000 respondents in the US between May 19, 2020 and May 21, 2020.

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