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Consumers are less likely to share information for marketing purposes than for security reasons, according to a new study released by the Pew Research Center. For many consumers, the willingness to share personal information depends on the deal being offered and the risk involved.
According to the study, most Americans view personal privacy issues as contingent on context. The Pew Research Center study, which is based on a survey of 461 U.S. adults and nine online focus groups of 80 people, revealed various circumstances under which many Americans would share personal information or permit surveillance in return for receiving a benefit with perceived value.
Consider that most Americans believe it would be acceptable (by a 54% to 24% margin) for employers to install monitoring cameras following a series of workplace thefts. Nearly half (47%) indicated the basic bargain offered by retail loyalty cards–that stores track their purchases in exchange for occasional discounts–is acceptable to them, but nearly one third (32%) calls it unacceptable.
Many Americans are willing to share personal information in exchange for tangible benefits, but they’re cautious about disclosing their information because of what happens to that information once companies have collected it. According to the study, when presented with a scenario in which they might save money on their energy bills by installing a “smart thermostat” that would monitor their movements around the home, most adults consider this an unacceptable tradeoff (by a 55% to 27% margin).
In online focus groups and in open-ended responses to a nationally representative online survey, many people expressed concerns about the safety and security of their personal data in light of numerous high-profile data breaches.
What’s more, they also expressed anger about the barrage of unsolicited emails, phone calls, customized ads, or other contacts that inevitably occurs when they elect to share some information about themselves. The issue of context is a very important theme that emerged from this study.
From extended comments online and through focus groups, the study revealed that a person’s interest and overall comfort level depends on the company or organization with which they are bargaining and how trustworthy or safe they perceive the firm to be. It depends on what happens to their data after it’s collected, especially if that data is made available to third parties.
In this study, respondents were presented with six hypothetical scenarios, each of which involved sharing some level of personal data in exchange for using a product or service. They were then asked whether the bargain they were offered in return for sharing that information was acceptable, not acceptable, or if “it depends” on the context of the choice. Upon making their selection, they were then asked to describe in their own words what factors contributed to making their selection.
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