Survey: Americans willing to share data, if they can control who sees it

A new study by PwC shows that US Netizens value their personal data and don't want to give it away for free. They also want a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

When it comes to personal privacy, people are a lot more savvy than you might realize. Sure, there’s always the “privacy is dead – get over it crowd.” But as a new survey by PwC shows, most Americans have a much more nuanced view of the personal information they surrender each day online and via their mobile devices, and they yearn for more control over it.

PwC surveyed roughly 1000 US adults on their feelings about privacy earlier this year. The big picture conclusions: People are willing to share personal information with companies – to a point. But they draw the line when it gets too personal. They want something in return for giving up their data. And they want to know exactly what data companies are collecting about them and to have the ability to turn off the spigot, as needed.

Naturally, there are some generational differences, but they aren’t as big as you might expect. For example: 72 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 would hand over their personal information in return for a discount on movie tickets; only 56 percent of those age 45 to 59 would do the same. Two thirds of the young hipsters would surrender their data for free popcorn, versus 52 percent of the aging crones.

Only 7 percent of the youngsters don’t want to share no matter what goodies might be in store for them; 11 percent of the oldsters feel the same. I expected the gulf between those two groups to be much wider.

Roughly half of all those surveyed say they’d share personal info in exchange for some location based services, such as finding nearby restaurants and performances; to avoid seeing ads before or during shows; and to get real time traffic info or better mobile phone service.

What this means to me: People do understand that their data has value, and that they deserve something in return for it. This is something I’ve been harping on for the last 15 years. It’s my data; if you want it, you need to pay me for it -- and just serving me "more interesting ads" isn't gonna cut it. 

Perhaps the most interesting results of the PwC survey are the types of data people want to protect. As shown in the inverted triangle below, nobody cares if some stranger knows if they’re married or single, while just about everyone knows they need to protect their Social Security Number or risk having their identities stolen. 

pwc privacy triangle 600p.png

People are also pretty blasé about protecting their “Likes” – the shows they watch, the games they play – and their birthdays and email addresses. (As the report also notes, most people have multiple email addresses, some of which are just repositories for spam.)

The data people really want to protect? Their medical information, their Web browsing history, data stored in the cloud, and just about anything having to do with their phones.

That strikes right at the heart of the Do Not Track controversy that has consumed so much of people’s attention (and this blog) over the last year. People’s Web histories are personal, regardless of whether they’re collected anonymously.

Other interesting stats:

* 87 percent of those surveyed say they want to control what information gets shared

* 80 percent would be more willing to share if companies were more upfront about the data they were collecting

* Roughly a third of people feel most comfortable sharing data with their wireless providers, but slightly more would rather not share with anybody

* 61 percent say they would stop doing business with a company after it suffers a security breach

The biggest single data point that stands out in this survey is that, when it comes to personal privacy, most people really do want Congress to act on our collective behalf. Overall, nearly three out of four of those surveyed find the concept of a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights somewhat or very appealing.

If this survey is representative, the American people clearly want more control and more rights than they currently have. The question is whether we will get it.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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