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What Is Next For Consumer Privacy As Data Continues To Proliferate

We are inherently drawn towards things that are free. Psychologist, Dan Ariely, in his book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, has explained this behavior, “FREE! gives us such an emotional charge that we perceive what is being offered as immensely more valuable than it really is.” With the rise in consumerism, our needs, wants, and demands have multiplied significantly. But the urge to get more for less has always dominated our purchase decisions and continues to do so. Enterprises have long understood this human psyche and have been using the bait of “freebies” to get customers hooked on their services for quite some time. How is getting something for “free” really affecting today’s consumers? Is there a hidden cost in all the “freebies” we get?

Consumers are Giving Away More Information to get more Privileges

Today’s consumers are way more empowered and informed than they have ever been when it comes to deciding what they want to buy and whom they will buy from. Moreover, they are seeking an active involvement with the brands they want to trust and be associated with. In order to please these super-informed-consumers, organizations try to grab every opportunity available to strike a conversation with them, engage them, and build relationships with them.

The digital era presents marketers with many such opportunities: social media sites, forums, and communities being a few of them. Many of these online spaces are free to users. They are able to navigate the sights, post updates, and connect with friends and brands at no cost—that can be seen. But as people’s obsession with free things skyrockets, they may not realize that they are trading away their privacy to use free social media sites, consume free content, use free applications, play free games, and the list goes on. As a result, the Internet has turned into a goldmine of data and information that people choose, knowingly or unknowingly, to give away in exchange for “free stuff.”

Businesses Begin to Thrive on Data

Gone are the days when marketers had to bombard their prospects with emails, promotional, and sales calls with the hope that they might eventually end up buying their products. Most sales and marketing was based on assumptions about potential buyers and the onus was on the sales person to convince and convert. Today, customers know what they want and they are vocal about it. They talk about their preferences and do not entertain most sales pitches, unless of course, the sell adds value to their lives. With consumers openly discussing their likes and dislikes, businesses no longer have to guess. All they need to do is listen.

Moreover, with technologies like cloud computing, BYOD, Big Data, and Internet of Things coming to life, data is being generated at an incredible rate. Instead of worrying about finding data, now marketers need to focus on managing massive volumes of data and filtering out the data that applies to their businesses.

Are Consumers Thinking about Privacy?

According to EY’s Global Information Security Survey 2013, 30% of respondents rated privacy as their first or second priority in terms of investment, while placing privacy 10th in the hierarchy of required information security investments. Another survey, conducted by the University of Southern California’s Center for the Digital Future in 2013, found that more than half of millennials are ready to share information if they get something in return. Those statistics aren’t surprising, considering how many of us scroll through instead of reading those privacy policies before signing up for a product or service.

However, with cases of data breach climbing, awareness seems to be on the rise. Last year, a survey revealed that 7 out of 10 Americans were willing to shun Google Glass over privacy concerns. People are seeking to take back at least a small portion of their personal life, giving rise to the question – are we heading towards a future that will allow us more privacy, or are we on the course to full exposure?

“The Future of Privacy” report from Pew Research Center answers the question to some extent: the survey asked if policymakers and tech leaders will succeed in creating “a secure, popularly accepted, and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025 that allows for business innovation and monetization, while also offering individuals choices for protecting their personal information in easy-to-use formats.” 55% of respondents were not hopeful that this would happen, while 45% were. Some of the respondents even said that the notion of privacy in the future will be looked at as a “fetish” and a “new taboo”.

The growth of technology has definitely outpaced the formation of new regulations, and the existing ones are completely inadequate to protect people from the privacy risks presented by modern technologies. It’s not hard to understand that the issue of online privacy is spiralling out of control in the absence of proper regulation. Until those regulations are conceived and put into place, the only way consumers can protect their privacy is by limiting the amount of information they are giving away.

Will the lure of “free” continue to blur the lines when it comes to sharing personal information? What are your thoughts?

This article was first seen on Ricoh Blog.

Daniel Newman

After 12 years of running technology companies including a CEO appointment at the age of 28, I traded the corner office for a chance to drive the discussion on how the digital economy is going to forever change how business is done. I'm an MBA, adjunct business professor and 5x author of best-selling business books including "The Millennial CEO" and "The New Rules of Customer Engagement." Pianist, soccer fan, husband and father, not in that order. Oh and for work...I'm the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group and President of V3 Broadsuite, a family of marketing and media agencies that help companies be found, seen and heard in a cluttered digital world. I also give keynote speeches around the world on the topics such as digital transformation, technology and marketing.
  • TedRubin

    I believe most people only concern themselves with privacy momentarily when there is a well publicized data breach. Shortly thereafter they simply go back to their regular practices. Email marketing for “privacy” services go through the roof during this times as I gather conversions skyrocket for the very short term. All in all people do not equate “privacy” with the data being collected every day by marketers, platforms, credit card companies, etc., the privacy that is truly their only ongoing concern is about access to their banking and credit card number info and accounts. And even that they tend to ignore due to the difficulty in changing passwords, etc. frequently. Truth be told, for the vast majority, it is about ease of use.