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. 

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.)

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