Users care about their privacy, but feel powerless to protect it

Users are resigned to the loss of privacy, but not because they feel they are getting good value for their data, but because they believe marketers will eventually get it anyway, a new study by University of Pennsylvania researchers has revealed.

The results are in conflict with the claim that marketers have been repeating years, which is that Americans give out information about themselves as a tradeoff for benefits they receive.

“To the contrary, the survey reveals most Americans do not believe that ‘data for discounts’ is a square deal,” the researchers noted.

The study involved 1,506 Americans age 18 and older, who were presented with everyday situations that required them to keep or relinquish their information in order to get access to a service or discounts.

Another finding of the research is that the more users know about ways marketers can use their personal information, the more likely they are to agree to the exchange of data for discounts. In short, they are resigned, and believe it impossible to change things.

“Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them. Our study reveals that more than half do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened,” the researchers noted.

“To further question marketers’ emphasis on Americans’ use of cost-benefit calculations, we found that large percentages of Americans often don’t have the basic knowledge to make informed cost-benefit choices about ways marketers use their information,” they added.

They pointed out that most users, for example, don’t know that a pharmacy does not legally need their permission to sell information about the over-the-counter drugs they buy, or that it is legal for an offline or physical store to charge different people different prices at the same time of day. Also, most believe that the fact that a website has a privacy policy means that they will not share a user’s information with other websites and companies without the latter’s permission.

“As US society moves further into the twenty-first century, personalized deals and prices will become common both online and in physical stores. These sorts of tailored offers will undoubtedly be increasingly troubling to Americans who believe they are on the losing end of often-hidden consumer profiles and targeting formulas,” the researchers noted.

“The futility over information control we are seeing in the public sphere is disrupting a compact that commercial marketers made with Americans through the past century,” they point out, and predict Americans might come to reject the legitimacy of marketing and consumer commerce, and the rise of social tensions.

But the situation can be remedied, the researchers pointed out, and offered a few suggestions on how to go about it: corporate transparency, active dissection and reporting on the implications of privacy policies, and the ability to know the contents of our profile compiled by companies.

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Users care about their privacy, but feel powerless to protect it