The Privacy Problem
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The Privacy Problem

Privacy continues to be a concern for consumers, yet most consumers still seem to be willing to give up at least some privacy for the sake of convenience. In a recent study (see complete infographic below), 92% of U.S. internet users worry about their online privacy and, while only 31% say they understand how their personal information is used and shared, 75% feel that they are adequately protecting their online personal data. WHAT??

How can a consumer protect the privacy of their data when they don’t even understand what is happening with the data they share?

It also appears that the level of concern is beginning to plateau. In 2014, the same study indicated that consumers were 74% more concerned about online privacy than the last year. Now, only 45% are more worried – which indicates one of two things: Either consumers can’t get much more concerned that they already are, or consumers are becoming more comfortable with the state of their online privacy.

Nearly 3/4 of respondents said that they have limited their online activity on the past 12 months due to privacy concerns – which worries this marketer. Some consumers have altered their online behaviors – stopped clicking on ads, withheld personal info, not downloaded an app/product, stopped an online transaction, stopped using a particular website, stopped using an app – because of privacy concerns, which makes it more difficult for marketers on two fronts. It makes it harder to get a consumer to engage with a branded online presence, and it also makes it harder to gain personal information about consumers. That personal data allows for more targeting, personalization, and automation – all of which increases our marketing ROI. So we need to figure out how to make consumers more comfortable by helping them understand what WE already know: That we respect them and we are keeping their data as safe as possible.

But in this climate of fear, how can we do that?

We all know that as long as a company states somewhere in its privacy policy that it retains the right to sell consumer data to a third-party, it has the legal right to do so. However, most consumers do not view this practice as ethical. And really, most good marketers don’t either. So one way for us to ease consumer fears about what is happening to their personal information is to be more transparent about what we are collecting, and how it will be stored, used, and shared. We need to make sure our privacy policies keep things as simple as possible, in terms of both language and format. By using clear, short-but-sweet headings that address key consumer concerns, an organization’s privacy policy can essentially shout the basics out to consumers while following up with the necessary legalese to protect the organization. Make sure to include key information like EXACTLY what data is collected – personal information entered in forms, search phrases, clicks, etc. – and how it will be used, which will help consumers have a better understanding of how and why the data collection benefits them. It should also clearly outline what, if anything, is being shared. There may be organizational partnerships where personal data sharing for the benefit of the consumer makes sense, in which case it should be clearly articulated to the consumer in order to increase the comfortable level with that sharing of information.

Ultimately, consumers want control over their own personal information, so there should be a option to opt-out of data collection completely, or to determine what data is collected when, and when it should be deleted. This process to put consumers in control of their own personal data should be quick and easy, and should be properly outlined for the consumer. Giving consumers this control will likely increase amount of personal data they choose to share as their comfort level grows, thereby improving the marketers access to this valuable data.

What are your feelings about privacy as a consumer? How about as a marketer?

TRUSTe/NCSA Consumer Privacy Index (Infographic) - US, 2016

TRUSTe/NCSA Consumer Privacy Index (Infographic) – US, 2016

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