Consumer Attitudes on Data Privacy: Shifting sentiment toward Big Tech.

August 17, 2020
At the end of July 2020, multinational consulting services firm KPMG Advisory released a new data privacy study, outlining results of a May 2020 poll on consumer attitudes on data privacy.  Some specific details are interesting, but the key conclusions are things we’ve seen reiterated many times before:
“…Consumers overwhelmingly agree that data privacy is important, and they want corporations to take significant steps to better protect, manage, and ethically use their data.” – KPMG, June 2020
Their headline question measuring the importance of data privacy for consumers suggested, “87% of consumers say data privacy is a human right.”  For the past two decades American and international consumers have consistently ranked personal data privacy very high in lists of concerns.   The level of concern around data privacy can vary slightly but in general, 75-90% of people polled will claim it to be a significant issue. consumer feelings on data privacy Where things get more complicated is when these persistent concerns about privacy are benchmarked against questions like, “Who do you think is more-responsible – Businesses, or Government – to be doing something to improve it? This is where we think the wider range of recent polling data may point to interesting things overlooked by individual studies. In particular, what we’ve seen over the last five years is a subtle shift in consumer attitudes toward whether people trust companies by themselves to safeguard personal data, or whether they think active Government intervention will be required. There are plenty of annual studies that track trust-levels of institutions, and overall, private companies do remain better-trusted than the Government. But that sentiment is experiencing a slight shift in recent years, particularly with regards to data privacy.  Between 2013-2017, the primary media narrative about online data privacy tended to be related to the exposure of covert Government data surveillance programs.  A PWC survey in 2017 pointed out that 72% of consumers believed “Business, not Government, is best-equipped to protect [personal data] But since 2017 then there has been gradual erosion in the confidence levels consumers have normally placed in Big Tech.  Facebook, in particular, has seen its trust-levels plummet over that period of time. While general confidence in tech. companies remains high, feelings around data privacy are distinctly negative. 69% of respondents currently still trust companies like Google handling their personal data, similar research from 2015 had Google ranked ahead of both Amazon and Microsoft in degree of trust. share of people who trust companies with their info We see further evidence of a shifting balance between “Tech vs. Government” in other recent polling on the question of data-privacy. In November 2019, Pew published an update to its ongoing research into consumer attitudes towards data privacy. Interestingly enough,  the perception of ‘risk versus benefit’ has recently shifted in favor of Government compared to similar questions in 2015. pew research data privacy In the past, corporate mismanagement of consumer personal data tended to be seen primarily through the lens of ‘risk of identity theft’, or simply, ‘unwanted marketing’.   Now, we’re seeing more of a perception that personal data is being exploited commercially, and in ways that may put people at risk in ways that previous forms of 3rd party fraud had not. KPMG’s own recent study hints at this, too. trust in corporate ethics is low Consumers want companies to protect their data   As consumers are becoming better-educated about the online marketplace that their personal data exists in, and how it is being used, we think this inevitably stimulates demand for more-targeted Government regulation. We don’t think any immediate action on recently-proposed data privacy legislation is necessarily going to be taken before the 2020 elections; however, we do expect it will be a priority on the legislative agenda throughout 2021, regardless of the election outcome.

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