Consumers believe privacy is not possible, leading to a change in online behavior
82% of online users in the US and 75% in the UK are choosing to change the way they behave online, according to a new consumer survey by FigLeaf.
For these respondents, 74% say they are sharing less information online as a result. As for the 25% who indicated that recent privacy scandals had no impact on their online behavior, the prevailing reasons were that they were already highly protective of their information, or that they had accepted a lack of privacy when engaging online.
The survey follows a similar study conducted by FigLeaf in March 2018 that queried more than 7,500 users in five different countries: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Australia.
The initial 2018 study, which took place prior to the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook fallout and subsequent privacy scandal stories, revealed 39% of users in the US and UK did not believe online privacy was possible.
Approximately one year later that number has jumped to 68%, demonstrating a greater awareness among consumers of their online privacy, but also a significant loss of confidence in the ability to keep personal information private.
In fact, when consumers were presented with a list of options for safeguarding their privacy online, 29% in the US and 23% in the UK still believed it was impossible to protect their digital information.
“Without question, consumers are telling us that online privacy is important to them. However, far too many believe online privacy is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve,” said Slava Kolomeichuk, CEO of FigLeaf.
“This attitude is resulting in individuals who are choosing to restrict their own online activity, which limits their personal freedom. Unfortunately, current tools do not give consumers the assurance they need that it is possible to control one’s own online privacy.”
The role of governments
The two studies also highlighted a significant discrepancy in consumers’ views of how governments should be involved in online privacy. In 2018, 75% of all respondents thought governments should protect users’ privacy, with 63% believing more laws and regulations should be enacted as part of that effort.
By 2019, however, only 6% thought privacy should be handled by the government. Instead, 21% said the companies receiving the information should be accountable to keep it private, 28% believed it was up to the individual person, and the majority of responses, 45%, considered it a joint responsibility between all three.
The attitude toward government regulation could stem from the impact of the GDPR, which went into effect May 2018. In the UK, one of the countries responsible for the legislation, only 48% of respondents believe it has given them more control of their privacy online. In the US, that number dropped to 18%, with a full 48% of users saying they did not even know what GDPR was.
“Regulation is a critical component of privacy, particularly as it relates to how individual companies can use or share someone’s private information,” said Pankaj Srivastava, COO of FigLeaf.
“Regulations, however, are in place primarily to penalize bad behavior of companies. They do not give consumers a practical way to manage their privacy on a daily basis. How many of us, for example, have requested our data to be deleted from a company’s server?
“This is because regulations are not well understood by consumers, driving greater incentive for individuals to take matters into their own hands, and ultimately leading to dissatisfaction and mistrust online.”
The survey, conducted in May 2019, included 4,088 online users across the United States and the United Kingdom, comprised of men and women ages 18 and older.