Consumers reduce digital footprint over privacy concerns

Consumers across the globe are expressing a heightened sense of fear over their online privacy and personal data. With nearly half of global consumers (48%) admitting they have lost control over how much data is stored about them and 49% feeling that COVID-19 restrictions forced them into expanding their digital footprints, a new wave of concerns are coming to the fore. 56% have expressed worries over losing track of their digital selves entirely, and they are now seeking to regain control over their data. In recent months, over three-quarters (77%) of global consumers have taken steps to reduce their digital footprint.

These insights have been surfaced in the Global Consumer State of Mind Report 2021, an annual benchmark report produced by Trūata, the privacy-enhanced data analytics solutions provider. The global report captures the views of 8,000 consumers across the UK, France, Brazil, South Korea and the USA to understand the challenges and fears that consumers face around data privacy globally, alongside the differing attitudes across countries and generations.

The report found that almost two-thirds (64%) of global consumers have increased their use of tech during the pandemic (increasing to 67% in the USA and 79% in Brazil), with 60% of business owners and senior managers admitting that they have used tech solutions during COVID-19 that they previously wouldn’t have used due to privacy concerns. Having now assessed the data exchange that enabled them to carry out their everyday activities in a remote and predominantly contactless world, consumers say they now want to take back control of their privacy, with more than 6-in-10 (61%) globally wanting to reduce the amount of personal data stored about them once the pandemic is over.

Despite an increase in stringent data protection regulations around the world, consumers are now calling for more to be done to ensure their right to privacy is respected. The sentiment echoed across countries is that the onus should not be on consumers to protect their data and safeguard their digital selves; they want brands to step up and take responsibility for the data they are storing and using. Almost three-quarters (74%) of global consumers want stronger transparency around data governance from the brands they use, and this issue is felt most strongly in Brazil, with more than 8-in-10 (82%) demanding more openness from organisations. Critically, nearly 7-in-10 (69%) global consumers say they are more likely to be loyal to a brand if they trust them to use personal data appropriately (increasing to 71% in the UK, and 74% in both the USA and Brazil).

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

“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. 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.”

Given the growing level of vigilance around expanding digital footprints, catalysed by COVID-19, an unsurprising 79% of global consumers affirm that data privacy is now essential to them (increasing to 88% in Brazil, followed by South Korea (83%). However, one of the main reasons they are now looking to take action to reduce their digital footprint is because nearly 6-in-10 (59%) feel businesses have overstepped the mark, when it comes to data usage. This rises to nearly two thirds (65%) in South Korea, with consumers making a stand and demanding better from brands. In addition, two-thirds (66%) of global consumers believe that behaviour tracking is invasive. Despite the perceived benefits of sharing data with brands, 55% now say that they would prefer not to receive personalised offers if it means being tracked, and 57% warn they will stop using brands that ‘stalk them online’.

Consumers across the world are speaking up to warn brands that they are already taking action to mitigate their privacy issues, with nearly 4-in-10 (38%) having rejected website tracking cookies, over a third (36%) unsubscribing from email lists, and 30% having used private browser modes online. Interestingly, over half of South Korean consumers (51%) believe that “having multiple online personas is a way to manage [their] data privacy”, which raises concerns over how data accuracy and the quality of insights could be impacted if brands don’t evolve with a privacy mindset.

As more and more brands look to harness data to grow and evolve in a digitally-driven economy, there are lessons to be learned when it comes to rebuilding consumer trust and loyalty in a post-pandemic world. Moving forward, more than two thirds (67%) of global consumers agreed that they will look to engage with brands that make it easier to control how their data is used, a figure that increases to 72% in the USA and 74% in Brazil, with a 3% net agree increase (from 63% in 2020 to 66% in 2021) across the UK, USA and France. While advancements in tech and business rely on data and, therefore, present significant challenges around consumer privacy, brands also have a clear opportunity to gain a competitive advantage if they listen and adapt their approaches based on long-term consumer expectations and preferences.

Marx added: “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.

“In a privacy-centric, post-pandemic world, it will be those brands who look toward 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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