Privacy and the Trust Paradigm


At the Quirks Event in London, Finn Raben, the Director General of ESOMAR, shared research from HERE Technologies (which collects GPS data from vehicles), Buzzback (the lead agency), and Cint (the sample provider) on consumer attitudes towards privacy. 

So much of our life now takes place digitally. In an Internet minute, there are 87,000 tweets, 3.8 million Google search queries, and 188 million emails sent. All this activity is powered by more devices with mobile connections than there are people in the world: 9.42 billion mobile connections (phones, tablets, etc., representing 5.17 unique mobile subscribers), from a world population of 7.75 billion.

The information commissioner of the UK, Elizabeth Denham, said, “The creation and sharing of personal data profiles about people to the scale we’ve seen feels disproportionate, intrusive and unfair, particularly when people are often unaware it is happening.”

And consumers are unaware that it’s happening: they are not sure how much data is being collected, capitalized, and traded. This leads to the paradox of embracing the technology while securing the privacy we want. So much is done surreptitiously. A Buzzback representative confessed that he thought only two of his smartphone apps were reporting his location, when in fact 80 were!

ESOMAR has a range of initiatives to study and address this:

  • The Be Data Smart campaign, encouraging organizations to be user centric when managing data;
  • The Privacy Paradox, from September 2018;
  • A follow-up study, The Trust Paradigm, from September 2019.

Finn shared the key findings from The Trust Paradigm, which was an online survey sponsored by HERE Technologies, conducted by Buzzback Research, and fielded by Cint. The survey was fielded to 10,000 respondents across ten markets. The goal of the research was to understand how consumers really feel and behave when it comes to sharing personal and location data, to determine how brands can best serve them to build trust.

Seven out of ten people share their location data when asked; they are most likely to in China and India and least likely to in Japan and Germany. But that doesn’t mean everyone is happy about it: 40% only share when they have no other option; sharing data is something they tolerate to use certain services.

Only 33% are confident that they know what is done with their data, and 6 in 10 reported their data was used inappropriately in the prior year (email hacked, bank account or credit card hacked, victim of phishing, or leaked personal data).

The levels of concern about sharing personal data digitally are high:

  • 3 out of 4 reported some level of concern about sharing personal information
  • 4 out of 10 do not like the privacy practices of most “data collectors”, with concern highest in China and Brazil and lowest in the Netherlands and Germany.
  • A majority are concerned about sharing their data digitally.

Consumers recognize that it is on them to determine what their data is, but most don’t feel they can do enough to be responsible about their data: 79% agree it is “difficult to find information about how best to protect my privacy.”

Consumers want help. Transparency is key:

  • 90% agree it is the responsibility of the data collector to clearly tell them how they are using personal location data. This rose from ~75% the year before.
  • 69% are likely to share data if the collector is clear about why the information is needed and how it will be used.

Two thirds of consumers trust Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and Apple at least somewhat, while social media is distrusted. This survey was fielded prior to the $5 billion fine on Facebook. So not paying attention to privacy is creating a greater financial pain than ever before.

Apple has seen the light and is using privacy protection as a unique selling point. Finn shared the following commercial:

Some recommendations for data collectors:

  • GDPR compliance says you that respect an individual’s data and how they will let you use that data. Internalize that attitude of respect.
  • The research industry encourages respondents to feel valued for assisting the innovation process. That needs to extend to the digital sphere. “The respect for respondents needs to extend to ‘data subject participants’ (even if that is an awful phrase).”
  • Let people know what you are collecting and what you are doing with it; earn trust by demonstrating that you are compliant with the industry regulations and communicate it up front; communicate the benefits of how data sharing helps.

Apple is demonstrating that respect for privacy can give you an advantage, differentiating you from your competitors. Good data practices can boost sales.

For more on privacy regulations, check out the University of Georgia Principles Express course, Ethical and Legal Issues in Market Research.

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