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Twenty-Four Thousand Miles of Similar Thinking on Privacy

Jed MoleJune 22, 2018

The world’s a big place, and it’s full of individuals – each with their own minds and thoughts, born from their own different experiences. Despite these differences, we’re only slightly different when it comes to certain things. And so, it should come as no great surprise to learn that we consumers, people the world over, have similar attitudes regarding something as complex as our right to privacy. We collectively enjoy the benefits data brings to our lives and are willing to at least be pragmatic about sharing our data to realise our more informed, frictionless world of social media, online shopping, Google maps and the like.

This is not conjecture. These views are backed by real research from the Global Alliance of Direct Marketing Associations (GDMA) and Acxiom, independently researched and compiled by The Foresight Factory on representative samples of consumers from 10 countries across four continents. What the report titled Global data privacy: What the consumer really thinks told us is that despite the significant cultural differences you’d expect to find, the majority of people (77%) are pragmatic or even unconcerned about sharing their data. This, we believe, reflects the fact that data forms a part of so much of our everyday lives now that we know, one way or another, it is central to it.

This report is an evolution of a report on UK consumer attitudes to privacy now in its third generation, having been commissioned by the UK DMA in 2012, then again with Acxiom in 2015 and 2017. The global report sees the same comprehensive set of questions being asked in 10 countries across four continents to get a new and unrivalled, at this degree of detail, view of how consumers vary or agree in their thinking. At a time of increased consumer awareness about data, especially in Europe with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), understanding how consumers really feel about data privacy is something all marketers need to prioritise.

To help readers gain a high-level understanding of attitudes to privacy, three main segments of consumers were created in 2012 and have carried forward to the present. These are Data Pragmatists who are open to sharing data in return for value, Data Unconcerned, who, like my sons, are very relaxed about sharing data, and Data Fundamentalists who are very cautious about data and reluctant to allow its use. It is worth noting in passing that the trend in the UK has been for a steady decline in the number of Data Fundamentalists, down from 36% in 2012 to just 25% today. We don’t have the benefit of previous data in the other countries but suspect the trends will be similar.

What the research does reveal is that the size of these segments is roughly similar across the countries surveyed, though it does differ to a degree. It was surprising to learn just how relatively unconcerned consumers in Germany were regarding data privacy. However, we believe this is not because Germans don’t care about data privacy; it’s more because they have relatively high degrees of trust in the system in Germany, which leads to lower levels of genuine concern. More interesting differences can be found in the report.

Speaking of trust, this factor remains central to consumer attitudes to sharing data regardless of country. If consumers are willing to share their data, it is on the understanding they can trust brands and their partners to keep data safe, to only have data that it makes sense to have and that they use it to benefit them and not just make more money. On top of this, consumers want transparency about the data we have, they want access to it and they want control about whether or not we can have it; thankfully, these are key tenets of GDPR and so, hopefully, more and more businesses around the world are seeing how consumer sentiment is headed in Europe and are embracing similar values.

It seems clear that despite more awareness and some concerns, especially when data is in the news, we can expect greater acceptance of data exchange as part and parcel of everyday life. This is positive news for marketers who believe in data ethics and in transparency, access and control for the consumer. While we’re all individuals, the majority of us, if you were to ask (on a 24,000-mile trip around the world; which we did) seem to agree that getting this right will be key to achieving the win-win businesses and importantly, consumers, really want.

You can find the report, available for download, here on  Acxiom.co.uk