Public More Worried About Privacy Loss Than Terrorism

A new study from McCann-Erickson has found that people around the globe are more worried about loss of personal privacy than they are about most other issues, including rising terrorism, climate change and the growing number of pandemics. The only thing that worries them more is the possibility of another global financial crisis.

But according to the study, people are far more worried about two specific privacy issues, including the security of their financial data and the security of their personal reputation.

Targeted marketing? Not so much, the study found. That’s considered what the study termed “part of life these days” and not much different from being filmed by a security camera on a city street or subways.

The study, the latest in a series of reports issued under the McCann Truth Central banner, polled more than 6,500 hundred people in the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong, Japan, India, and Chile. Researchers also conducted focus groups and other qualitative research in those countries, as well as in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Belgium and Italy.

Laura Simpson, global IQ director, McCann Worldgroup, and the executive who oversaw the study, noted that 65% of people around the world are aware of Web tracking and 44% are aware that marketers use it to determine the interests of consumers. “Many welcome it,” she said, because they believe there is a fair exchange, including access to promotions and discounts and ads directed at them that are more relevant to their needs.

Brands might want to take their cues for privacy practices from the two most trusted categories in the privacy arena: banks and credit card companies. According to the survey, they tend to walk the walk on privacy in everyday practical ways that make believers out of consumers. For example, if you access your bank account online and don’t click for a minute or two, you’ll be automatically signed off by many banks.

Credit card companies will often cut off a card if it’s used overseas (without notice from the owner). That’s annoying, but a sign that companies are clearly on top of security, Simpson said.

Relevancy probably made Amazon the most trusted brand in the U.S., Simpson said. It succeeded with the “if you liked that you might like this as well” approach to marketing.

Marketers, of course, are in the eye of the storm on the privacy issue -- with about a dozen bills on the subject winding their way through Congress.

And marketers themselves have to shoulder some of the responsibility for the fact that many of those bills seek to curb commercial access to consumer data, said Fran Maier, president, TRUSTe, the internet security firm. “We haven’t been transparent enough about what we’re doing” with data, she said. Marketers and agencies have also failed to effectively counter consumer misconceptions.

Nancy Hill, president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said that many of those in Congress think privacy -- particularly as it relates to what marketers do with consumer information gathered online -- is a top priority for constituents when research, like the McCann study, shows it really isn’t.

Also, Hill said, many in Congress just aren’t up to speed on all the digital gadgetry that has empowered consumers. She noted a meeting with one U.S. Senator who pointed to her iPod and remarked: “Only five of us understand what this is.”

Hill said a privacy bill is likely to be passed in the next 12 to 18 months. The good news for marketers is that those who self-regulate per agreed-upon industry guidelines would likely receive “safe harbor” status. Those who don’t would be subject to whatever law is passed.

Multinational firms will have a tougher set of privacy rules to face in Europe, said Maier, where some countries require the active consent of a consumer before a marketer can track them with a computer cookie.

1 comment about "Public More Worried About Privacy Loss Than Terrorism".
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  1. Bruce May from Bizperity, October 19, 2011 at 10:59 a.m.

    Of course consumers think that online tracking is fairly benign but they also have little knowledge about how the technology really works. I doubt that the survey results would have been so favorable to the industry if consumers understood how tracking systems could create detailed, personal profiles. It’s one thing to think that, when I am planning a vacation, I would invite some ads that could give me more choices and quite another thing to know that a tracking system collects and maintains a detailed personal profile that knows exactly where I have been, what I bought, and even what I thought not to mention what my friends think about all of that. The convergence of social media and behavioral tracking raise these issues to a new level which are poorly understood by consumers and industry insiders alike.

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