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Almost half of the public don't know who to ask for advice over protecting personal data and just 1% would go to Information Commissioner's Office, according to a research paper published today.

Just one percent of the UK public would go to the Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) for advice on personal data, according to a paper published today.

When asked who they would go to for advice on protecting their data, only 1 percent named the ICO while almost half (45 percent) of the 1,222 respondents said they ‘don’t know’, a poll by ComRes found.

35 percent said they would ask the Citizens Advice Bureau, 15 percent said they would search online while 13 percent would ask a lawyer.

In its research paper the ICO conceded it had “a great deal of work to do to” to increase its visibility and engage with the public. It said “new and novel ways are needed” to raise public awareness of its role.

In a speech today, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham (pictured) warned the ICO’s European counterparts they “need to get practical”, focus on clear rules and serving the public instead of obsessing over legislation.

The main demands from citizens were more control over personal data, ensuring their data is securely held and a better understanding of how their data is used and the reasons for sharing it, the paper said.

Graham added that data regulators should act to raise awareness and enforce citizens’ rights now, not just wait for pan-EU rules to come into force, which could take “years”.

However the ICO’s research found a “significant discrepancy” between what people say they want collected, shared and used by organisations (generally they were in opposition) versus their actual behaviour, the paper said.

Because the public often do not have the information they need to make decisions, they find their general concerns over data are often “overridden by their more immediate interests”, it explained.

Over half of EU respondents to a survey said they provide the minimum information required online while 89 percent said they avoid disclosing personal data on the web.

Research by Symantec found 81 percent of EU citizens think their personal data has a value and 74 percent find it unfair that companies make money from their data.  

The ICO said little research has been conducted in this area but it may be that some of the public “want their cut” when their personal data is being monetised. The data protection lead at broadcaster Sky alluded to this in a speach last week.

For now, the ICO suggested firms need to make it easier to opt out of data collection, clearer who data is shared with and give people a range of options, not just a yes/no choice.