What if everything you believed about privacy concerns is wrong?

Trust in institutions is at an all-time low as the Edelman Trust Barometer 2017 indicated. We’ve covered some possible implications and findings previously.

84% of US consumers express concern regarding the security of their personally identifiable information

Another question to ponder is that of privacy and personal data. If distrust is high, also regarding businesses, does this have an impact on the willingness of consumers to share personal data with marketers, governments and so forth?

As, also according to Edelman, many feel globalization and technological innovation go too fast or are even a danger, the root causes of these feelings matter and deserve attention. Along with that, so do the perceptions regarding the foundations of ongoing digitalization – such as data and, from a consumer perspective, privacy and what is done with their data.

Privacy – the changing attitude of consumers

Personally identifiable information, privacy and distrust

We know that data – and what you do with it – is an essential component of the digital transformation economy. It goes for data-driven marketing, for digital business, for new revenue sources, for several innovations which leverage the Internet of Things, the list is endless.

Of course not all data relates to humans but most of it one way or the other does. So, what if growing privacy concerns go hand in hand with increasing distrust? What if, on top of that, discussions on privacy regulations, with clear differences across countries and continents, and the perceptions of consumers in this day and age make them more aware regarding these privacy discussions, strengthened by what they hear in media regarding the usage of their personal data?

Hyper awareness and growing sensitivity toward data exposure appear to have consumers on the verge of making serious changes in their behavior

In that case we could face a real privacy war. Not just between regulators, nations and various institutions but, more importantly, in how people act upon a decreasing willingness to share private data and any form of personally identifiable information

For some privacy is an essential right. For others privacy is dead anyway. It needs to be said that we’re a weird species in the latter sense. On one hand we worry about our privacy but on the other hand we sort of give it away when using specific applications or in exchange for some benefit. However, things change and not always in the ways we believe they do as you’ll read below.

Consumers get ready to disrupt the privacy game

While mainly across Europe and in some other regions various firms are being sued for all sorts of privacy issues and organizations globally prepare for the European GDPR, in the US there is a call to reduce privacy regulations in a broader scope of reducing market regulations overall.

The real question though is what people themselves feel. If history showed us one thing it’s that you can decide anything you want but if people’s behavior suddenly shifts as a consequence of changing perceptions, it won’t work. After all, that’s the definition of disruption.

In that sense here is a very fascinating finding from IDC that hasn’t been picked up too much but deserves our attention.

On January 24th 2017, IDC released the results of a survey which shows that, as the press release rightfully states, ‘a whopping’ 84 percent of US consumers expressed concern regarding the security of their personally identifiable information or PII. An equally whopping 70 percent said that their concern is greater now than it was a few years ago.

Three things, worth taking note off here.

First: of course privacy is a broad topic and often we use data that can’t lead to personal identification. But in practice we know it can be done if really wanted (which doesn’t mean that it always is done, anonymous data are leveraged too).

Secondly, it’s quite remarkable that this percentage is so high in the US where traditionally privacy views are a bit different from, for instance, Europe. It seems that privacy concerns are becoming a global phenomenon.

Thirdly, there is of course a difference between an expressed concern and an action. You know how it goes. As research often finds – and as we like to believe – people are less reluctant to share data in exchange for something deemed relevant enough and trusting this data will be solely used for the purposes it is shared. Indeed, that declining trust.

However, and this is really a crucial finding, according to IDC, we quote, “hyper awareness and growing sensitivity toward data exposure appear to have consumers on the verge of making serious changes in their behavior”.

Moving from a state of giving up on privacy to a state of cross-generational behavioral change

Taste those words: on the verge of making serious changes in their behavior. And what happens in such cases if the changes are serious ‘enough’? Indeed: disruption.

Younger consumers, those age 18-35, demonstrate a higher concern for their personally identifiable information than do their 36-50 year-old counterparts

This isn’t to be taken light-heartedly. In the Summer of 2016, the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, reported about the so-called trade-off fallacy whereby US consumers don’t believe the ‘data for discounts’ exchange is a fair one as we reported.

Worse: the research also found that US consumers felt it was inevitable to share data as marketers had the power to harvest them anyway. That wasn’t exactly a rosy picture. Yet, looking at the IDC findings consumers might very well be on the brink of taking action and taking action to reclaim their privacy, using any of the many ways they have to do so.

We know. Traditionally, the thinking goes that over time people will get used to the benefits of an increasingly digital economy and privacy won’t be that much of an issue. Moreover, research after research, tells us that already younger generations don’t care that much about privacy as the older ones.

Surprise: the IDC survey says exactly the opposite. According to IDC, we quote again ‘younger consumers, those age 18-35, demonstrate a higher concern for their personally identifiable information than do their 36-50 year-old counterparts’.

And that (on top of many other reasons) is more than cause enough to start really thinking about privacy, trust and the road ahead, regardless of what other research, often from marketing firms, says.

What if IDC is right and those younger consumers you believed cared less about privacy are on the verge of making serious behavioral changes as are older consumers?

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