Pandemic tech use heightens consumer privacy fears

Report on consumer attitudes to privacy finds evidence of a “heightened sense of fear” as digital footprints expand inexorably

The dramatic expansion of the average person’s digital footprint due to Covid-19 restrictions is causing increased anxiety over personal privacy, and a feeling for many people that they are losing control over how much data online platforms hold on them, according to a report compiled by Trūata, a supplier of “privacy-enhanced” data analytics services.

Trūata’s Global consumer state of mind report 2021 polled 8,000 consumers in Brazil, France, South Korea, the UK and the US to understand the challenges people were facing around their data privacy, and found many expressed a “heightened sense of fear” over their privacy and personal data.

Many of the concerns were linked to the rapid onset of digitisation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Just over two-thirds of consumers (64%) said they had used more technology during the pandemic, but having assessed the data exchange that allowed them to keep their daily lives ticking over during periods of national lockdown, 61% now wanted to reduce the amount of personal data that tech companies hold on them.

Nearly half of respondents (48%) said they had lost control over their data footprint. Some 56% were concerned about losing track of their digital presence entirely and said they wanted to, or were taking steps to, take back control of the situation. Over three-quarters of respondents (77%) said they had actively taken steps to reduce their digital footprint.

“There’s no denying the accelerated pace at which the Covid-19 pandemic has revolutionised the way we live, the way businesses operate and the way global society functions. A ‘go digital or go dark’ dichotomy leaves little choice but to harness the internet and technology to stay connected in all aspects of life,” said Trūata CEO Felix Marx.

“However, with personal data exchanges acting as the price for entry into this new, not-going-anywhere, digitally driven economy, the initial acceptance of a temporary takeover by our digital selves was short-lived,” he said.

“With so much of life happening online, questions around safety and security have come to the fore, triggering a tipping point for trust and digital privacy, which is highlighted by the findings in this year’s Global consumer state of mind report. Having felt a loss of control, consumers are now seeking to reclaim ownership and demand the protection of their digital selves.”

“A ‘go digital or go dark’ dichotomy leaves little choice but to harness the internet and technology to stay connected in all aspects of life”
Felix Marx, Trūata

With user data the lifeblood of online platforms and digital brands, Marx said there were clear lessons for tech companies to learn in the post-pandemic world. Looking ahead, many study respondents agreed they would prefer to engage with brands that made it easier for them to control their data, up on previous years. Others called out “creepy” behaviour such as personalised offers or adverts that stalk people around the internet based on their browsing habits, and many also felt they wanted to see more evidence of appropriate data governance.

Those organisations that can successfully adapt to meet these expectations might find they have a competitive advantage in years to come, suggested Marx. And consumers already appear to be sending them a message that the issue needs to be taken seriously, with over a third of respondents now rejecting website cookies or unsubscribing from mailing lists, and just under a third switching on incognito web browsing.

Notably, in South Korea, many respondents said that having multiple online personas for different services was a good way to manage their privacy, raising concerns about data accuracy and the quality of insights that can be derived from it.

“The findings from our report send out a clear message that brands across the globe have some rebuilding to do to repair lost loyalty and trust with consumers when it comes to data practices. The good news is, however, consumers have outlined just how brands can get them back onside by being more accountable and transparent,” said Marx.

“In a privacy-centric, post-pandemic world, it will be those brands that look towards emerging technologies and automation that will be able to cut through the torrent of consumer concerns, shake off the privacy paralysis and begin to take advantage of the data opportunity ahead of them. The analytical advantage is no longer gained by how much data you have at your disposal, but how much privacy plays into your commercial mindset.”

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