Why privacy is key in an age of mistrust

By Privitar - November 22, 2018

For customers to share accurate and sometimes personal details about themselves with your organisation, one factor is of ultimate importance: trust. But 90% of consumers currently feel that technological advances threaten their privacy, posing a new question for data-driven businesses: what happens if customers decide to stop sharing?

In this second in a series of blog posts looking at the results of Privitar’s Privacy Pulse 2018, we explore consumer attitudes to data sharing, discover what’s behind an increasing cynicism surrounding data privacy, and look at how you can win back your customers’ trust.

People fear what they don’t understand

Negative news stories, large-scale breaches, and uncertainty around how data is used has made consumers reluctant to share their information. This may not come as a surprise – but the scope of the problem might. Two thirds of those we surveyed are concerned about how their data is being used.

Fuelling this fire is a rapid rate of technological growth that’s seen a whole host of new data-driven technologies enter our lives. The price we pay for increased convenience is that an astounding nine in ten consumers believe new technology poses a risk to their data privacy. This includes things like AI – which often grabs headlines for all the wrong and often most speculative reasons – but also voice-activated speakers, wearable tech and connected home devices.

It’s important to recognise that this isn’t a phase, or a blip. The more data is used to target and personalise, the more user discomfort grows. Which means there’s never been a more critical time to secure the trust of your audience.

90% of consumers believe technological advances threaten their data privacy

Consumer fears of the data ecosystem

When we look at the details of these customer concerns, it becomes apparent that most customers have some knowledge gaps in their understanding of how data is actually used.

The most common fear is that companies share data without permission. While this abuse has been prolific in the past, it is now illegal in Europe. But the fact that customers worry about it tells us a lot about the unease, and  lack of trust they have when it comes to data privacy – as well as their concern over their limited ability to control how their data is used once they have handed it over.

Permission to share and sell data to advertisers and third parties is often hidden deep in terms and conditions – so it can come as a surprise when inboxes become full of unwarranted mails. And this visible evidence of lack of control erodes trust in the whole data ecosystem.

These are fears about what happens to data after it’s sold or shared. But another fear is about how companies use and handle data internally.  This concern isn’t completely unfounded. It’s recently emerged that DeepMind may transfer its healthcare unit to Google despite assurances that the two companies would remain autonomous  – turning over 1.6M NHS patient records to Google in the process, and raising understandable concerns over the future of patient privacy.

The consequences of mistrust

The consequences of mistrust can be wide ranging and severe. As many as 78% of consumers say they feel ‘violated’ if they learn their data privacy is not secured. And they won’t keep these feelings to themselves either, with 61% either complaining, telling friends or family, or sharing their discontent with their online network.

This can all lead to severe reputational damage – and ultimately, lost business. 60% of consumers claim to have refused to download an app because of data privacy concerns.

Transparency and privacy are key

Being open, honest and fully transparent about how data is used – and illustrating the benefits to customers by actually delivering the improved experiences that make the data exchange so worthwhile – can go a long way to winning trust.

Apple offer an instructive example, with their refusal to add security backdoors to their iPhones and their CEO’s vocal support of strong privacy regulations in the US leading commentators to conclude that their best product is now privacy.

By taking measures to de-identify data with privacy enhancing technologies, you can protect your customers’ data privacy, even in the event of a breach. This technology can provide a major advantage – especially in an atmosphere of distrust that isn’t going to disappear overnight.

As Privitar’s Head of Marketing, Nikki Stones says: “Consumers have made it clear that they want respect for their data – but they also want the best of the products and services that data has to offer. Privacy enhancing technologies help you to deliver on both, freeing your data for innovation while protecting the privacy your customers value so dearly.”

The final word

To maintain reputations – and customer trust – businesses need to start taking customer privacy seriously. And there’s no better time to do that than now. When distrust is rife, showing you understand your customers’ concerns and taking the initiative to dispel them is a true competitive differentiator.

Explore more key findings from our global privacy survey, and discover:

  • Customers’ top concerns about how companies use their data
  • How the misuse of data is impacting willingness to share
  • Why data protection must become a business priority