Commentary

Privacy With A Gimlet Eye: Consumers Are Suspicious, But Practical

The marketing world is reeling between GDPR and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. But there is good news on the privacy front.

One-third of all Americans will share personal data in return for financial benefits, according to "Data Privacy: What the Consumer Really Thinks," a study by the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) and Acxiom.

They also will accept “automated and smart systems to run and deliver services on behalf of consumers.” The percentage rises to half among millennials.

However, 82% are concerned about online privacy, proving that “establishing trust among consumers will be crucial in promoting a healthy data economy,” the report warns.

The DMA and Acxiom surveyed 2,076 U.S. consumers.

Drilling down, 58% will share their email address with a favorite brand. This is a boon for firms that want to send both promotional and transactional emails, and it confirms other studies that show email is the most popular medium.  

In contrast, 40% will provide data about their location so they can find the quickest route to their destination. Some 32% will share their interests and hobbies to receive relevant offers from online sellers. Of course, 18% will share none of these, and many are uncomfortable with giving up any information.  

Most consumers agree that the more personal the data, the more they expect in return. This feeling is especially prevalent among millennials — 67% agree, 24% strongly so. And, 66% of Data Pragmatists agree.

Data Pragmatists? People who will “make tradeoffs on a case-by-case basis” when deciding to hand over data. They represent 58% of the sample — the largest percentage. They are spread across all demographics, with consumers in the 25-44 age range being slightly more likely to be in this cohort.

Even better, from a privacy perspective, are the Data Unconcerneds — those who simply don’t trouble themselves about the collection and use of personal data. They make up 18%, but 31% of people in the 18-24 age group are in this category, possibly because they grew up with digital technology. 

The result: Over 75% are practical or don’t care. But beware — Data Fundamentalists are “unwilling to provide personal information even in return for service,” the report states. And they make up 24% of the sample. These types tend to be baby boomers —38%, compared to 12% of the 18-24s. 

What will motivate a consumer to share data?  The biggest requirement is they have to trust the organization — over half say so. Over one third will cough up data in return for free services and products. However, they are less likely to be driven by the fact that a brand is well-known or by the offer of better service.  

They also demand transparency. Of those polled, 84% agree that the terms and conditions should be easy to read, and 53% say this is very important.  

Next in the list of conditions — roughly equal — is the feeling that firms should have a flexible privacy policy that allows individuals to control the types and quantity of data they will share.

Consumers also want transparency (84%), and to see the link between the data they give up and the benefits.

But here’s one more warning sign: Three-fourths of all consumers believe businesses benefit more from data sharing than they do. Two-thirds of millennials feel the same way, although one-fifth believe consumers get the most out of the arrangement.  

Go, millennials! 

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