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Why It’s Time to Open up to Consumers About Where Their Data Goes

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Many companies collect data from their customers without giving away much about what they want to use it for, or why. But new research suggests such secrecy comes at a cost

Esomar Logo In today’s digital world, consumers don’t get very far without giving up some personal information. We tell our smartphones, laptops, and wearables more and more about who we are, where we are and what we’re doing.

This data “footprint” is the lifeblood of many digital services that we have come to rely on, underpinning everything from social media to dating apps, online shopping, and transport, not to mention targeted Marketing and Advertising.

But although millions of consumers are tapping ‘OK’ to share their information each day, the latest research casts doubt on whether they’re really ‘OK’ with it. Simply put, if using a free maps service means I have to provide details of my journeys, then that’s probably ok…but why should that same service need access to my photos, my friend’s contact details or my financial data?

A new study, conducted by global research association ESOMAR and Here Technologies with research partners BuzzBack Research and Cint, found that 71% of consumers in the US share their location data at least sometimes. However, the majority say they don’t like the privacy practices of most data collectors, and more than a third say they only share their location when they have no choice.

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It’s clear that even consumers who are willing to give away their data are harboring some serious concerns and questions: where does their data go? Who gets to see it?

Getting answers to these questions isn’t easy for consumers. For various reasons, companies haven’t always been very upfront about what customer data they use, or why. Consumers are often left in the dark, and their concerns about data misuse are fuelled by a never-ending stream of media stories about hacking, leaks, and cybercrime.

An overwhelming 90% of US respondents in our survey said that brands must disclose when they are using personal data – showing just how big an appetite there is for transparency. And as well as wanting to know what data is being used and what happens to it, people also want to know what’s in it for them. Does tapping ‘OK’ to share data really help the user? Or only the service provider?

Our findings suggest that if companies are upfront and honest with consumers, they’ll reap real rewards.

Two-thirds of people say they are likely to share their data if the data collector is clear about why it is needed and how it will be used – and 41% said they would actually be more willing to buy or use the services of brands that are open with them. Being more transparent can help brands to earn trust and build loyalty.

Over the years, many brands have seemingly gotten used to holding their data practices close to their chests, with the result that consumers have become very suspicious about their intentions. Now consumers are telling us loud and clear that transparency pays!

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