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Half of US consumers accept all cookies despite concerns about how their data is shared

Unlocking consumer data will require more education, per industry experts.

Data privacy is on the minds of the tech companies, lawmakers and marketers alike. But is it on the minds of the general consumer? And what are they doing about it? A new poll of 1,000 US consumers conducted by YouGov in conjunction with The Drum answers those questions.

It’s not uncommon to be greeted with a pop-up on a Web site that asks a simple question. Would you like to manage how the site collects your personal data or will you just accept all of Web site’s existing terms? This is accompanied by a well-crafted statement about why sharing your information via cookies will allow for better search results, more relevant content, improved site performance and, of course, this creation of promotional materials.

So how do consumers feel about sharing information in return for a better experience? Not good, according to a poll of 1,000 US adults polled conducted Nov. 10 by YouGov on The Drum’s behalf. More than half (55%) say they are not very, or at all, comfortable with sharing their personal data in exchange for a better Web site experience.

In fact, the vast majority expressed concern about how their information is being used by Web sites. Thirty-seven percent polled say they are very concerned about how Web sites use their personal data. Nearly (45%) described themselves as somewhat concerned.

Yet, 50% of US adults simply accept all cookies. This is especially true of younger consumers. The majority (62%) of respondents 18-29 were the most willing to accept all cookies. Meanwhile, those 65+ were the most discerning with 64% saying they do not accept all cookies. More than half (51%) chose additional options or manage their cookies.

So, what are they afraid of? They aren’t exactly sure. Only 13% of those polled described their understanding of cookies as very good. Half say their knowledge was somewhat good. More than a third (34%) say it’s not very good or not good at all.

“The growth in awareness of data has not been accompanied by a growing understanding of it,” says Acxiom chief executive Chad Engelgau. “This is in part due to the inherent complexities of something that works across so many aspects of our lives today along with unhelpful, sensationalized stories that spread fear over understanding. It’s therefore unsurprising people don’t fully understand cookies.”

The good news for marketers is that nearly half (44%) of consumers say they’d be somewhat or very comfortable sharing their personal information in exchange for a discount or special offering from a brand they liked.

“These survey results are almost absurdly in line with the writing that’s been on the wall for some years now: people don’t want their data surreptitiously misused; they don’t have the energy to deal with technicalities; and they have much less issue sharing data when they can expect something in return,” says Myles Younger, senior director of data practice, Media.Monks “Google and Apple understand this very well: they’re gradually deprecating all the features that allow surreptitious data harvesting, thus saving consumers the hassle of having to [grasp] how third-party tracking works. Likewise, the smartest marketers know which way the wind is blowing and are investing in first-party data strategies built atop transparent exchanges of value such as loyalty programs.”

Education and legislation are in order

While the industry, and government alike, navigates what data privacy regulations will look like, education is essential, says JoAnne Monfradi Dunn, president and chief executive of Alliant.

The question is who should be leading the charge? Monfradi Dunn says, "the burden of this should rest on trade associations and solution providers to communicate and educate consumers. Additionally, brands must take it a step further to ultimately protect this data and their customer relationships, providing choice to how their data is used. Consumers need to have better insight into how their consent to share data provides value to them. They can make educated choices as to what to share and with whom. Now is the time to clearly and loudly launch efforts aimed at transparency and education, done in collaboration with trade associations and lawmakers, so that the ad industry can solve this issue once and for all.”

Acxiom’s Engelgau agrees that it’s time for a national privacy law in the US, “one that gives people meaningful rights – to know who has their data, how it is used, and how to opt-out. It’s in our country’s best interest to have a national standard that, done thoughtfully, benefits both consumers and businesses by providing transparency, uniformity, and certainty without deterring innovation and competition.”

No matter where privacy education and law ends up, Gerry Bavaro, chief strategy officer for Merkury at Merkle says that “brands that provide truly great experiences, clear value, and are trusted by consumers will have an advantage in the coming years.”

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