American consumers are more preoccupied with data privacy than losing their main source of income with 92 percent of respondents in a new survey saying they would worry about their online privacy and 89 percent claiming they avoid doing business with companies that they feel don't provide adequate privacy protection.
Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of those who were concerned about online privacy had limited their activity online in the 12 months preceding the survey.
But only about a third of consumers (31 percent) understand how organizations share the personal information they collect.
“There's an awareness gap,” Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber-Security Alliance (NCSA), which released the TRUSTe/NCSA Consumer Privacy Index Thursday, told SCMagazine.com. “We've seen this throughout our research. I think people believe at some level that they are doing a really good job, that's human nature. Maybe it's a case of where they don't know what they don't know.”
Users think they're doing a good job, “but when you ask them how, that's when things get squishy,” added Chris Babel, CEO at TRUSTe.
Babel noted that much of the action taken by online users to protect themselves is centered around things they don't do, such as not downloading an app. The study found that 51 percent of online users didn't click on an ad online and 44 percent didn't provide personal information when requested. In addition, 32 percent didn't download an app or a product because of privacy concerns and 28 percent put a halt to an online transaction. More than a third of online adults (36 percent) claimed to have stop using a website while 29 percent have stopped using an app in the 12 months preceding the study—of those groups, 47 percent said they took protective action because the a website or app had requested too much data.
Despite those indications that online users are taking steps to protect themselves, even those that knew of the options available to safeguard privacy, didn't always act. For instance, 60 percent of those surveyed knew they could delete cookies, cache or browsing history, but only 53 percent did and 43 knew they could turn off location tracking on their phones, but only 29 percent followed through. Even though 43 percent understood they could change social media settings, a mere 24 percent did. When it came to privacy policies that companies post, 33 were aware of them, but only 16 percent actually read them.
Kaiser and Babel noted that users in both the U.S. and U.K. showed similar levels of concern over online privacy with American users keen on taking a page of EU General Data Protection Regulation—with 60 percent believing they have the right to be forgotten.
It is clear from the numbers, that businesses have a ways to go to win online users' trust—56 percent of Americans do trust businesses with their information, but nearly half of respondents do not. Among the organizations considered most trustworthy were health care providers (74 percent) and financial organizations (72 percent) with social networks (35 percent) and advertisers (25 percent) falling at the lower end of the trust spectrum.
“I think what we still see is the trust piece, needs to be worked on,” Kaiser said. “Consumers tend to trust traditional organizations they have a relationship with. Health care and financial are businesses built on trust anyway.”
While 37 percent of respondents believe that losing online privacy is the price paid for being more connected, those questioned in the study said organizations could win their trust if they were more transparent about data collection and user (35 percent) and provide tools to protect sensitive information (35 percent). Nearly half (45 percent) wanted greater control over their information with 42 percent saying they wanted to know how personal information is used and 41 percent wanting to understand what types of data is collected. Currently, 46 percent believe they don't have control of the personal information they put online.
Kaiser said that companies need to get better at demonstrating what they're doing to protect personal information. “They need to send stronger signals to users about how they're doing this,” he said.
Despite putting a premium on privacy, there are a couple of instances in which the respondents said they would or expected to forego it. After the Paris terrorist attacks, which occurred the month before this survey, 38 percent of respondents said online privacy trumped national security, a seven percent decline from last year.