Privacy Etiquette 101: Consumers Will Share More if They’re in Control
Recently, I had the pleasure of joining a panel at Social Media Week in New York, where media professionals and brands gather to get the latest innovations in social technologies. Laura Simpson and Nadia Tuma of McCann’s Truth Central, a global thought leadership unit of McCann Erickson, presented The Truth About Sharing: From Selfies To #Hashtags, a terrific new study all about the heightened potential—and possible pratfalls—of sharing online.
Simpson and Tuma revealed that in 2013, 89% of consumers agreed that people share far too much personal information online these days – up from 87% when asked the same question just two years ago. But ironically, consumers also said they are more willing to share virtually all types of information with others online in 2013 than they were in 2011.
Kevin Nelson, EVP and Global Strategy Director at McCann, moderated the discussion following the presentation, where panelists focused on how brands can build more sophisticated relationships with consumers through data, while still respecting consumers’ privacy.
So why was sharing such a hot topic?
Well, for one thing, consciously or not, we’re doing a lot more of it than ever before. These days, we all have a bunch data springing from our mobile phones, laptops, tablets, wearable devices, and even our cars. We’re living our lives digitally—and that means we’re leaving behind a trail wherever we go, whatever we do.
Despite this, our all-too-human brains haven’t quite caught on. We originally evolved to understand privacy within the context of the physical world. Within that construct, we simply didn’t have the capability of tracking everything we said, saw, or did. One could argue that a strongly-worded argument over a caveman’s campfire had very different repercussions than an off-the-cuff quip retweeted ‘round the world. But whether you’re dodging a real or metaphorical Hairy Man with a Club, consumers are figuring out a new form of etiquette—and brands need to keep up.
Our own research at Microsoft Advertising has shown that when consumers feel in control, they’re more likely to share their personal data. In fact, we found in our soon-to-be-released Consumer Decision Journey: Financial Services study that control was the single biggest factor driving consumers to share information: 68% of US consumers are more likely to share if they feel in control. Secondarily, they also want the power to stop sharing or delete information at any time. 
This is why we’re seeing the meteoric rise of apps and services like SnapChat and Secret.li, which enable consumers to put limits on how long their information is available to others.
We also see this emerging consumer aspiration (aspiration only because brands and technologies aren’t fully enabling it yet) validated in our 2014 Digital Trends research within the Right to Anonymity trend. Consumers’ increasing desire for anonymity means more public demand for privacy controls and for the right to delete digital footprints. It isn’t that consumers don’t want to share; they simply want more control when they do.
- Just 42% of consumers globally agree that they are able to manage their digital identity by removing information from the Internet after it is posted
- Nearly three quarters of global online consumers (73%) would be interested in using a service that enables them to remove information and set lifespans for every piece of information they upload
- And finally, 84% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a brand that allows them to update their privacy settings
So what does this mean for brands? We recommend a few etiquette rules of our own. First, for consumers to share data and build deeper relationships with brands, they need to trust you. It helps if you’re seen as a privacy-conscious brand that offers complete access to the information that is collected on consumers. Even better, help consumers understand the value of the data they share by letting them know what’s in it for them.
Second, consider placing use-by dates on user-generated content and allow consumers the option to select their own data for deletion. This puts the control back into the hands of consumers—and enables them to truly own their data.
And finally, get involved in conversations around privacy, anonymity and the future of digital life. Why should privacy be discussed among only the lawyers managing our privacy pages? It should be an ongoing dialog, one where multiple perspectives from consumers, marketers and technologists combine to provide a richer, more productive discussion, and ultimately, solutions that enable what human social behavior is really about: cultivating more meaningful relationships.