Consumers aren’t so worried about data misuse by advertisers

But they do want to know just how their data will be used, a new survey finds.

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Good news, marketers: While consumers are worried about their data being misused, the misuse they’re worried about is criminal, not commercial. 

Nearly half of consumers are afraid their data will be misused for identity theft, while only 9% are concerned about advertisers misusing it, according to a report by performance marketing firm Tinuiti. Also, only 8% say they’re most worried about products or websites they’ve viewed online being tracked.

While consumers seem resigned to other people having or getting their data, they are still doing what they can to fight this. Only 20% believe they have control of their data and 52% agree that there’s no such thing as online privacy. Even so, nine in 10 have taken some kind of proactive measure to protect it, with more than half having cleared browser cookies and turned off location tracking on mobile devices.

Managing expectations. “I’m more than ever willing to give up that data and really share part of my privacy,” said digital policy consultant Kristina Podnar at last month’s MarTech conference. “But I have to have value. It can’t be for naught. and I have to get true value out of that.”

The numbers back her up. 

Dig deeper: 3 challenges of building customer trust in a privacy-focused world

When asked what kind of promotional offer would prompt sharing their email address, consumers favor cost savings. Nearly 3 in 10 respondents chose both free shipping (29%) and a discount coupon (28%), with other rewards and perks being favored by fewer than 10%. Only 1 in 5 consumers wouldn’t surrender an email address.


Another motivator. There is another thing that will help you convince consumers to share data: Tell them what you are going to do with it. A recent Accenture survey found 73% of consumers are willing to share more personal information if brands are transparent about how it is used, up from 66% in 2018.

“If you want to be able to respect people’s privacy but also deliver a valuable personalized experience,you have to have a transparent customer experience right to do privacy and personalization,” Lisa Campbell, CMO of OneTrust, said at The MarTech Conference.

Consumers, as everyone knows, can be contradictory. This explains why 90% would rather view ads than pay for digital content or services, at the same time that 70% prefer to opt-out of ad tracking, according to Tinuiti’s study.

You like personalization, they don’t. Only 29% like digital ads being tailored to their tastes. Even fewer (24%) approve of the trade-off implicit in targeted advertising – that is, exchanging data for something “free” online.

Consumers recognize the benefits of ad-tracking, but they still don’t like it. More than half (54%) said it’s “creepy that the ads seem to be able to follow me.” At the same time, however, a combined 43% of respondents say this is “fine” if it keeps content free and/or “helpful” for reminding them of products. There is some overlap between the groups: 20% who said retargeted ads are creepy also acknowledge they’re helpful or at least acceptable if they help keep web platforms free.

Why we care. There’s nuance in consumer opinion about data protection and that’s an opportunity for marketers. Also, while “personalized customer experience” is practically marketing gospel, consumers aren’t impressed. While a personalized CX helps sell goods, it doesn’t provide any significant benefit for consumers. It will have to do that in order to entice people to share personal information.

About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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