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Wanting to highlight the disconnect between people’s reported privacy concerns and actual behaviors, added a ridiculous line to their consent form: the right to name the user’s first-born child, which 98% technically agreed to. 

And our research supports these findings. While many say they worry about privacy, few take the time to understand these policies before accepting them. 

It’s easy to see why many businesses react to regulations rather than invest in giving more power to consumers, who will often consent regardless.

But our August Zeitgeist study across 5 markets shows there are significant gains to be made when people feel clued in about their data. 

With Google ready to pull the plug on third-party cookies, companies need to do all they can to motivate customers to willingly part with their information. 

Given identifiers had their inaccuracies in the first place, this is a timely opportunity for brands to obtain richer data by helping internet users better understand their own online trail. 

The opportunity

In the past, there was less incentive for companies to put privacy at the heart of overall business strategies, due to fewer regulations and consumer concerns. 

Even today, only 10% always read privacy policies, but 7 in 10 give consent for their data to be used at least sometimes. This means many regularly give uninformed consent which, taken at face value, could downplay the need for transparency. 

Our research also shows privacy concerns declined in the wake of COVID-19, with most accepting contact tracing as a means to an end. And as fines only seem to strike the worst offenders, some might ask: why not just maintain a low profile?

The answer: privacy-protecting values are a powerful way for companies to differentiate themselves from the competition. 

Our research reinforces the commercial benefits of getting informed, consent-based data. Those who feel in control of their personal information online are more likely to read privacy policies, and generally more willing to share. 

This reveals a link between understanding consent forms, feeling empowered, and being open to other kinds of data exchanges.

Making the language in privacy policies plain and concise will inspire more to engage and reduce the desire to be anonymous online.

This will be especially important as people receive the tools to become increasingly intentional about what they share and with whom. For example, 96% of iPhone users took advantage of a new feature that asks them if they want to opt out of tracking for any downloaded apps.

Brands that start from the bottom and work their way up to gaining consent are putting themselves in a favorable position. Initially being more reserved, only asking for what’s needed to provide a worthwhile value exchange, and demonstrating its advantages is (ironically) a clearer route to fostering less reserved relationships.

Beyond encouraging data sharing, higher levels of confidence have another key benefit. They help resolve the matter of privacy quickly, so B2C interactions can move beyond negotiating transactions to building connections. 

While reliability is still a highly desired brand quality among those who feel switched-on about their data, this group stands out most for prioritizing things like authenticity. 

Among the data hesitant, being transparent about data collection and usage is fourth on their overall list of brand expectations, which is overtaken by feeling valued among the data confident. Once satisfied that their information is in good hands, the latter have more room to focus on brand communications like responsiveness to feedback and social responsibility. 

Globally, high-income, male, and millennial segments are most likely to fall into this category. And regionally, MEA and APAC have a notable lead over Europe and North America. But regardless of country or industry, the end goal is to plant the seeds and cultivate this viewpoint in order for it to spread more widely. 

The challenge

The question is: how many internet users actually feel in control of their personal data? Right now, around 1 in 4. 

We asked consumers how open they are to sharing personal data in five different scenarios, spanning from an insurance provider wanting health data to a recommendation service asking for past purchases. In each example, no more than a third said they would feel comfortable complying.

Again, men, younger consumers, and higher-income groups were more amenable to sharing in most of these contexts. This is a reminder that any particular offer will resonate differently across countries and target audiences, so each value proposition needs to be customized.

But overall, current levels of enthusiasm toward data-sharing are clearly holding B2C relationships back. 

Those who don’t always consent to sharing reference several factors when asked why. At the top of the list is protection against fraud – a figure propped up by baby boomers. 

In contrast, Gen Z’s top driver is these websites feeling invasive (38%), which indicates that different groups respond more to certain kinds of assurances. 

Older groups are disproportionately victimized by online fraud. This helps explain why boomers’ most distinct motivation for using an ad-blocker is to stop companies collecting their data, and why one of their least stand-out reasons is to protect their privacy; the focus is often on blocking attacks, not just withholding preferences. 

A lot of Apple’s marketing is about limiting the personalization of ads delivered to users and forcing any unwanted onlookers to “mind their own business”. 

Yet, fears around fraud tend to elicit emotional responses, so messaging could benefit from occasionally adopting a more sentimental, in-it-together approach to tackling this issue, like HSBC’s “Together against fraud” series

Beyond the fear of being scammed, it’s a lack of knowledge about how data will be used that worries people, followed by not wanting to be contacted. 

This points to a general lack of understanding about how data will be protected and shared. 

Ambiguity around what happens to this information after the fact also makes it harder for consumers to comprehend any benefits, which is another key challenge. 

A recent article sums this attitude up nicely: “…the matter is settled. Corporations have won. We’ve lost”. 

Our research shows that people generally follow this line of thinking; while a high number think data sharing benefits third-party advertisers (49%) and the organizations that ask for it (59%), just 18% say the same about users. 

So, consumers are scared of fraudsters, often don’t see benefits to sharing, and don’t understand what they’re being asked for or why it’s needed. With all these ideas floating around, it’s easy to understand why many don’t feel empowered. 

How to rewrite the privacy narrative

When it comes to building real trust, we still have a long way to go. But there are a fair few positives. 

Around half are open to sharing their data in return for clear benefits; and over 3 in 10 are neutral, which indicates that they can be won over. 

The prize lies in converting this sizable group.

Gen Zs are the most likely generation to give uninformed consent and typically have the fewest number of concerns with sharing data. In theory, it should take less work to inspire confidence in them. 

And companies don’t need to rely on simplifying privacy policies alone. Media Smart and Livity, specialists in youth culture, have created a film-based educational resource for teens. This explains how different advertising formats work and aims to help viewers understand how brands should behave on social media. 

Additional tools like videos and virtual agents that help illustrate the main points of a value exchange not only humanize data transactions but demonstrate that security is a top priority, and not just something on a brand’s to-do list.

Companies can also benefit from getting feedback from customers about the quality and perceived fairness of their privacy practices, alongside their products and services. This promises to empower users by involving them in the discussion, and offer brands direction when contemplating new ways to use data.

People are increasingly conscious of their online trail, but only have so much time in a day.

The onus is therefore on businesses to make grasping privacy policies and realities as effortless as possible.

As more brands finesse their strategies, they’ll start building stronger, more emotional connections with their customers – and, hopefully, ensure privacy is no longer seen from a corporation vs. consumer standpoint.

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