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Will People Ever Be Comfortable Sharing Data Online?

Posted on the 17 March 2016 by Martin Zwilling @StartupPro

Avatar_girl_faceNeither people nor computers can really help you as a personal assistant unless you are willing to share data about what you like, what you feel, and who and what’s important to you. Even the best technology can’t read your mind, which is why a simple Google search often gives frustrating and irrelevant results, and online advertisers bombard you with opportunities of no interest.

In addition, consumers have traditionally been reluctant to share personal information with any non-human entity, fearing some misuse or privacy invasion. As an advisor to entrepreneurs and a technologist, I’m happy to report that the tide may be turning, and we are experiencing a new era of opportunity for entrepreneurs, and a new appreciation of the power of the digital world.

In his new book, “Digital Context 2.0: Seven Lessons in Business Strategy, Consumer Behavior, and the Internet of Things,” David W. Norton, Ph.D., a leading researcher on consumer behavior and the impact of digital, reports that decision makers, social media users, and younger demographics are more and more comfortable sharing data in order to close the gap between thought and action.

His latest study breaks the online consumer audience into the following four categories, based on their level of comfort with sharing personal information, likes, and needs online:

  1. High-comfort consumers – 12 percent. These are willing to share data with a variety of companies if there is a perceived beneficial effect to the consumer behind the sharing. They believe that the benefits of sharing data are very much worth the price of providing access to their data. These are typically decision makers, shoppers, and early adopters.

  2. Context-comfortable consumers – 27 percent. For these people, data is willingly shared when it leads to more empowerment and better control. Examples cited include biometrics, tool productivity, environmental control, social visibility, relationship data, and brand insight. This is the most rapidly growing segment, based on year-over-year data.

  3. Reluctant consumers – 44 percent. This shrinking group is willing to share location, brand history, and tool productivity data, but is still reticent to share social, biometric, and environmental data. They continue to be more strongly influenced by traditional purchase motivators, such as store discounts, recommendations, and proximity to a retailer.

  4. No-comfort consumers – 17 percent. These tend to be older consumers, with an average age of 52. They neither frequently use nor derive much satisfaction from social media, and would be classified at late adopters of new technology. They still experience feelings of creepiness online, and feel more susceptible to impulse purchases and offers.

Not surprisingly, brand trust plays a big role in consumer willingness to share data online, across all categories. Google scores high for tools, location, and social media data sharing, but not for biometric data. Apple gets great marks for consumer productivity, Walmart for brand data, and Fidelity for finance data. Another key factor is perceived value, such as rewards and discounts.

The concern over the ability of companies to maintain security and a level of privacy of consumer data is still the biggest inhibitor to consumer comfort with digital systems. Continuing incidences of personal identity theft, as well major personal data breaches, including Heartland Payment System (2008), Target (2013), and Anthem (2015) still weigh heavily on their decision process.

The biggest positive is the inherent ability of digital tools and digital channels to organize and prioritize the natural consumer tendency to meander and try to do multiple things at the same time. Digital channels create queues and allow truly parallel processing capabilities for individuals, despite the daily distractions of life and business. That’s real value for everyone.


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