Data Security Trumps Privacy And Tracking Among Consumer Concerns

Credit card numbers are flying across the Internet this season as e-commerce likely reaches new heights. Likewise, online retargeting is as explicit and unmistakable to consumers as it can be. Ad units with items scraped from your own abandoned shopping carts and browsing histories are now de rigeur and a standard part of Web surfing. But according to one survey, most American consumers are considerably more anxious about the security of their IDs from thieves than they are with merchants' ability to track them with ads.

Polling over 1,000 voters in mid-November, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) found that 80% of respondents claimed to be more worried that the information they share online will be hacked than they are about ad targeting. “We were interested in finding out both how they rate security and privacy in comparison and how that manifests in their behaviors,” states Ross Schulman, CCIA Policy and Regulatory Counsel.   



The disparity between security and privacy is comparative and occurs when the consumers are asked which worries them most. In fact, the actual level of concern between the two is not as pronounced. The survey found 75% worried about personal information being stolen while 54% were worried about advertisers tracking browser history.

This survey shows that users are (or at least claim to be) active participants in limiting tracking. Two-thirds of people (68%) claim they have adjusted their privacy settings on an online service, but only 2% say they did so to avoid targeted ads. Almost three-quarters (73%) have opted out of letting a Web site remember credit card information, and 53% have blocked apps from using location information.

Many (65%) users claim to have set their browser to disable cookies. I'm not sure we are really looking at an Internet where that high a percentage of people is invisible to advertisers, exchanges and site using cookie-based tracking. But that many people may think they are invisible. But despite stated concerns, the overwhelming majority of users (61%) say they prefer getting free content in exchange for targeted ads than paying for services with no ads or targeting (33%).

Curiously, people seem to think they have a good handle on the technology for both security and privacy. Only 7% of people admit to not having adjusted their privacy settings because they don’t know how to do so. Most (76%) use different passwords at each service. And almost all (83%) have used passwords to protect access to a device.

One of the things that seems to be propelling concern over security is the visibility of the breaches. In this survey, 62% say they have received a suspicious email from a contact that leads them to believe the contact’s email has been breached. I think a lot of us have gotten promotional emails from what looks like our own email account. And half say their friends' financial accounts have been hijacked.

It's not surprising, then, that almost three-quarters of survey respondents think the federal government should be acting more aggressively against identity theft. And more than half (56%) feels strongly that the government should do more.

Whether the CCIA survey is accurate in any one of its measures, the general takeaway here is that awareness of both privacy and security among consumers is now high and that they consider themselves involved in the process of managing both.

Arguably, social platforms and mobile technology have helped normalize the ritual of personal data management. The relentless resets of Facebook’s privacy policies notwithstanding, users have to manage who sees what on most social nets. Smartphone apps routinely ask users for permission to push messages, track location, share data, etc.

In other words, privacy and security are not abstracts anymore. They are not “policies” people simply read, agree to, and presume a third party is handling, but a part of the ritual of digital commerce. For marketers and publishers, I think this means that both privacy and security now become features that can be part of the conversation between seller and buyer.  

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