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We’re said to be living in a ‘privacy crisis’. Consumer data is more available than ever before and those organisations that use data are getting much better at manipulating it. Consent and security are under increasing scrutiny, with a solid three-quarters of consumers in both the US and the UK expressing concerns about privacy and how their data is used.
When surveyed, 98% of US consumers expressed a strong desire for more control over how their data is collected and used online. Older consumers tend to have more concern over privacy than younger ones – there’s also a regional variation.
A survey by Hubspot with AdBlock Plus found US respondents were the ones most concerned about data security and their privacy, more so than respondents in the UK, France and Germany.
Although most consumers express concerns about their privacy, a clear majority are also willing to share certain types of data if there are benefits to them doing so – that’s according to Deloitte.
Only a small minority of consumers say they’ll actively avoid buying an item out of privacy concerns, but more than a quarter will shut down cookies and nearly half say they have updated their privacy settings on a mobile phone. A clear majority will avoid using apps if they have privacy concerns about them.
Major internet names have come under pressure to improve their approach to privacy from a variety of sources. Both Google and Facebook have made their privacy tools more accessible and made a better job of explaining to consumers what it all means for them. It’s fair to say some of these measures are considered too little, too late by many people.
Facebook recently responded to sustained criticism of its approach to user privacy. The social media platform has now made privacy controls easier to find and made them simpler to use. Data settings are all gathered in one place rather than across multiple screens and privacy information can be reached via shortcut, to use just two examples.
It’s worth paying attention to what some of the biggest (and most scrutinised) players in the marketplace are doing on communicating privacy and data use because this is likely to become what consumers see as the norm.
Helping consumers to tailor their data preferences could actually be of benefit to organisations. We know that consumers are increasingly using ad blocking technology to get rid of annoying and interruptive advertising online.
But research in 2016 suggests that a majority would opt for a less severe level of ad blocking if that were available to them. In fact, 77% of users in the US and Europe agreed with the statement “I wish there were a way to ad-filter instead of ad-block completely”. A quarter of web users in the US, UK and Germany would be prepared to switch their ad blocker off if they were guaranteed fewer ads.
The answer is for data gatherers to make privacy tools not only more accessible but also easier to understand. Major players such as Google and Facebook have already been shamed into doing this.
Businesses need to recognise that ad blocking is a symptom of consumers trying to regain control. With privacy concerns increasingly on the consumer agenda, organisations need to take responsibility for respecting consumer boundaries.
Companies that don’t respect user concerns over data privacy will suffer a backlash as consumers withhold their data. It’s a backlash that’s already well underway, evidenced by angry consumers leaving Facebook and installing ad blocking technology.
Research by Harris Interactive shows that a clear majority of consumers are already taking steps that would penalise companies that aren’t respectful of privacy. Around 89% won’t do business with a company that offers inadequate online protection and more than three-quarters check for a privacy certification seal when they’re visiting a site.
Numerous high-profile data breaches have already eroded consumer confidence in the digital industry. Transparency is one way to retrieve consumer confidence. Giving control back to consumers is another.
Consumer concerns are impacting the wider digital industry, not just those players that are offering weaker data controls and protection.
We already know that consumers are increasingly using ad blockers and they are less likely to click an ad or enable location tracking than they were in the past.
This situation will only deteriorate if data gatherers continue to trample over consumer preferences and concerns. Working with consumers on this issue and respecting their preferences is the only option if data users want to be able to continue gathering and using data.