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How we sabotage our own privacy for deals and ego

Mark Gibbs | July 1, 2013
A study from consulting firm Infosys shows consumers globally are far more relaxed about sharing their private data than we knew and far more relaxed than they should be.

While it is generally accepted that Europeans are much more concerned about privacy than North Americans, the survey showed that the gap is arguably smaller than supposed. For example, when making an online purchase 57 percent of German users are willing to share data, while 75 percent of the French, and 79 percent of the Brits are OK with it. At 74 percent the Aussies are closer to the French but the winners and still champions at giving away the goods are ... you guessed it, the Americans (at 88 percent).

Surprisingly, consumers seem to trust their banks: 56 percent of Germans, 62 percent of the French, 75 percent of Australians, and 78 percent of Brits said they were OK with sharing their personal data with their bank. Again, the Yanks win out with 83 percent willing to divulge their private details to their banks despite having been well and truly screwed by Wall Street.

Unexpected outcomes

The attitude toward banks is particularly surprising given 82 percent of all those surveyed saying they expect their bank to mine or review their purchases to detect anomalies from identity theft. This is interesting because to do this kind of analysis requires significant insight into patterns of purchasing-the who, what, when and, most importantly, why of people's spending habits. So, how will those consumers feel when their wives show them an automated letter or email warning them of an unusual jewelry purchase that said wife, who isn't near a birthday or other occasion that warrants said bling, hasn't received?

Think that kind of event is unlikely? Then let me remind you of the little PR disaster that Target created for themselves when they mined customer data with the goal of identifying and then marketing to women who had recently become pregnant. They found purchasing patterns that identified these consumers very effectively, but the exercise wound up ratting out a 16-year old girl who was keeping her pregnancy secret from her family.

This is what's called the mosaic problem. All those scattered bits of data have little meaning or significance in and of themselves, but put together, they paint a detailed picture that is far more revealing than expected or, if it's your data, wanted.

And consumers don't really know what they think about their data being mined to provide a more customized experience: While the survey showed 39 percent considered it to be an invasive practice, the terms helpful, convenient, time-saving and good service scored 35 percent, 33 percent, 32 percent, and 27 percent respectively, proving that these are sheep that want to get shorn.

What this survey shows us is what I think we know about ourselves—we're blabbermouths who want to be treated like kings and queens. We just love getting what we want with as little effort as possible, we want it now and we want it cheap.

Sure, it's two bucks more than down the road, but we've got free same-day shipping and we don't have to get out of our pleather-covered Barcalounger and waste good tee-vee watching time to get what we want, so whatcha want to know?


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