Most Irish adults fear their personal data is being sold without their knowledge or consent and that their privacy is being compromised by companies' collection and use of their private data. But despite that only one fifth know what happens to their data once collected, or how long firms could legally hold on to the information.

That is according to a survey commissioned by IT Tralee and financial services firm Fexco, which was released today to launch the 2019 Cantillon Conference on March 28 in Tralee, Co Kerry.

Named in honour of Ballyheigue native Richard Cantillon, an economist credited with the origin of the term entrepreneur, this annual event brings together national and international industry leaders, economists, journalists, academics and entrepreneurs to examine and explore key technology-related topics.

Overall today's survey suggests that people are not generally aware of what happens with their data, but they assume it is something malign.

"It's interesting to know that there is concern, but alongside that there's a lack of knowledge when people do share data," said Breda O'Dwyer of the Centre of Entrepreneurship & Enterprise Development at IT Tralee. 

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Filling that knowledge gap is a clear distrust of companies - and the State - in terms of protecting users' data. 50% of respondents feel the Government holds too much of their personal data, while 88% feel it is not necessary for companies to collect the amount of data that they do.

Respondents also suggested that that level of mistrust is shaping their consumer habits, with 81% saying they would consider not buying a product or service if they felt the amount of data sought was excessive. That hesitance was also reflected in younger people, most of whom said they had thought twice about an online purchase on the basis of the data they would have to share.

"What companies have to realise is to ask only for the information that you need to ask for and make sure that you let people know what timeframe you're going to keep that information for," Ms O'Dwyer said. She also said that all stakeholders have a role to play in terms of closing that gap between people's fears and the reality around data collection, and perhaps removing some of that mistrust that pervades.

"People need to question what they're sharing - it's a two way process," she said. "The company has to build up trust with their customer. We're used to the fact that the customer comes first and as we move forward digitally that is more and more so. On the other hand, as consumers, if we want to engage more with that service, we may be happy to share that information. If we are we opt in, if we are not we opt out," she added.