Year of the clam: Americans are clamping down on data sharing

A few years ago, Americans would gladly give up their data to see how they’d look with a different hairstyle, or find out what movie star they most resemble. These days, consumers are a lot more savvy.

Attest’s most recent research finds that an overwhelming 84.1% of people are concerned about data privacy when interacting with brands online. The desire to protect personal data is seen across all ages; even Gen Z digital natives (aged 18-25) feel strongly about privacy (82.7%).

Why do people feel this way? BigTech only has itself to blame; the concern dates back to high profile scandals like the Cambridge Analytica scandal (2018-19), where the data of millions of Facebook users was collected without their consent and used for political advertising. Facebook was fined >$5 billion, in a landmark event for privacy and awareness of data usage (and rights).

Consumer Data Privacy Concerns on the Rise: Latest Research Highlights Worries Across All Age Groups.

Meanwhile, the questionable use of tracking cookies has caused consumers to become paranoid about being spied on by their devices (how many times have you seen an ad that’s spookily accurate or timely just after talking about a brand or a problem?).

We found that 36.6% of web users decline to share their data specifically because they don’t want to be targeted with advertising - and who can blame them?

Sayonara, third-party cookies

Finally, though, times are changing, and the balance of power is shifting back to consumers, who now have choices around sharing data. With Google killing off third-party cookies once and for all this year, the web will become more consumer-friendly. But is the damage already done?

We uncovered a notable (and growing) reluctance to share data among today’s consumer. For example, nearly a third of Americans would not give permissions for cookies if asked by a website, and half habitually opt-out of being added to company’s mailing lists regardless of the website and its real/perceived intent.

Brands need to be worried about this trend because the withdrawal of third-party cookies this year is going to make it significantly harder to accurately target consumers with digital advertising. This means that brands may need to spread advertising wider, use new methods, and rely more on ‘old school’ marketing (the type that doesn’t rely on tracking and targeting users in very fine detail). One thing’s for sure, companies are going to need as much owned-data as they can get their hands on.

It’s clearly bad news if consumers are pulling back on data at a time when brands need accuracy and efficiency more than ever. So what can brands do to help rebuild consumer trust and get web users to open back up?

Transparent is the new black

Repairing the damage to consumer trust ultimately comes down to one thing - transparency. Companies need to be open with web users about what data they are collecting. Consumers want to know explicitly what they’re sharing - why they’re sharing data, and what they might get in return for their data - rather than having their movements on a website tracked behind the scenes.

This is the new deal; consumers need to choose to share data. And many consumers expect to receive value in reciprocity for their data. It’s a whole new way of working; it’s what biologists call an ‘extinction event’ for entire ad ecosystems and many species of advertisers.

It’s no surprise then, that Americans’ preferred way to share their data with companies is via interactive surveys (47.6% prefer to opt-in to share this way). This type of data collection method makes it very clear what the company wants to know, and the respondent has the choice whether to share that information.

When a consumer willingly shares such data to help a brand shape its products and services, it’s known as zero-party data. It’s a far richer source of data than that which can be acquired via cookies, as Attest’s Zero-party data revolution report highlights. Zero-party data provides marketers with all sorts of possibilities, and our research suggests it also has benefits beyond the expected.

Building bridges with zero-party data

We asked respondents if transparency changes the way they feel about interacting with a brand online; if the brand collected their data more overtly, with clarity on process and purpose. Notably, nearly 58% of consumers said it would make them feel more at ease using the brand’s website. And it goes even further than this; 53.4% would feel more at ease interacting with the brand on social media.

Overall, nearly half of consumers trust a brand more with their data if zero-party data collection methods are used. Crucially, this trust trickles down into greater openness to receive marketing from a brand. Nearly 50% of Americans say they are more likely to subscribe to a brand’s mailing list, which is a major win for marketers.

Transparency holds benefits, and zero-party data is the solution to the death of third-party cookies. While consumers might be cagey about sharing insights about themselves inadvertently, they’ll tell you a huge amount if only you learn to ask nicely and share ‘why’.

This is how brands and marketers transition. As the music stops at the third-party, it’s time (and now the only choice) to get on the zero-party dancefloor.

Written by Jeremy King - CEO & Founder of Attest

Read next: Looking to the Future of Online Learning with Key Takeaways from Thinkific's 2024 Trends Report
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