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E-services preferred by the public despite privacy concerns

Digital transformation has reached Switzerland’s public administration. A ZHAW study shows that, despite concerns about data protection and data security, the public are generally happy to accept the use of e-services.

In Switzerland, as elsewhere, government services are increasingly being made available electronically. However, Switzerland is still trailing the international competition with regard to e-services and must catch up if it wants to strengthen its location factor. A recent ZHAW study examined the needs and concerns of the public as regards the digitisation of public administration. According to the study, people surveyed in Zurich generally prefer e-services to analogue services. However, the preference for e-services decreases as soon as personal data is involved. «Data security and data protection both play a central role for the users of e-services,» explains Alexander Mertes, ZHAW project leader. At the same time, the survey shows that analogue services for the public must continue to be guaranteed.

The more sensitive the data, the more relevant the security

The study was conducted by the ZHAW School of Management and Law in cooperation with the Association of Municipal Secretaries and Administrators in Zurich (Verein Zürcher Gemeindeschreiber und Verwaltungsfachleute, VZGV) and the Zurich Cantonal Chancellery. The survey was sent by post to approximately 23,000 households in the municipalities of Horgen, Fehraltorf, Meilen and Russikon, and a total of 987 individuals participated. They were asked about their preferences regarding digital services for tax returns, for moving house, or for «Joker Days» (where parents apply for an unpenalised day of school absence for their children). The fact that the majority of the individuals surveyed are concerned about data protection and data security (for example identity or data theft) was also apparent in the in-depth workshops.  For example, users think that data protection and data security are of greater importance in tax-return services than in online «Joker Day» services. However, the results also indicate that, despite those security concerns, the majority prefer digital services. Most respondents in the «tax return» group, for example, prefer the option of a digital tax return, even with lower data protection and data security, to an analogue service.

Price more important than time

The argument that digital services lead to shorter processing times on the part of the authorities, which is often raised in public debate, turned out to be of marginal importance in the survey. Caroline Brüesch, Head of the Institute of Administrative Management at the ZHAW and co-director of the study, explains that whether e-services lead to a reduction or even an extension of the expenditure of time on the part of the authorities, for example for the processing of a tax return, has hardly any influence on the assessment made by users of digital services. But the situation is different when it comes to price. The prospect of e-services being associated with possible additional costs for users seems to be the second central criterion in the assessment of digital services, after data protection and data security.


Prof. Dr. Caroline Brüesch, Institute of Public Management, ZHAW School of Management and Law, +41 (0) 58 934 68 01,

Dr. Alexander Mertes, Institute of Public Management, ZHAW School of Management and Law, +41 (0) 58 934 46 98,

ZHAW Corporate Communications, +41 (0)58 934 75 75,