Digital Consumers Value Data Transparency and Privacy

Those principles would encourage greater sharing of personal information, our surveys suggests

The pandemic has fueled a dramatic surge in digital activity in economies around the world. Consumers are using their mobiles and laptops for everything from online grocery shopping and telehealth to filling a prescription. Yet people remain deeply skeptical about the sharing of information that supports much of the digital economy.

Consider the following result from the Oliver Wyman Forum’s Global Consumer Sentiment Survey. Between September 2020 and this June, we asked more than 67,000 people in 10 countries – Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States – how they felt about sharing their information. By a margin of more than 2-to-1, people said they preferred to maintain their privacy and avoid sharing information rather than sharing their data to get a more personalized experience. 

What people tell surveys may not match their actual behavior. Consumers routinely share large amounts of personal information with technology and social media companies whether out of habit, convenience, satisfaction with the service, or other reasons. But political pressure for tighter regulation of tech companies is growing on both sides of the Atlantic and privacy concerns can loom large in particular areas.

The automobile industry is a case in point. Today’s cars are loaded with electronics, and information about things like a driver’s location, contacts, driving behavior, and the vehicle’s battery status can help companies tailor everything from advertising offers to the pricing of insurance to car servicing. But many people may be reluctant to be so open.

In a separate seven-nation survey conducted in March, we asked consumers what would make them feel comfortable sharing such information. The response was clear: A majority said companies should provide transparency about how information is shared and ensure that only anonymous information is shared, while significant numbers also wanted to control how information is shared and receive explanations about why their data is useful.

As digital technologies spread even more widely through the economy, questions of how information is shared, for what purposes, and for who’s benefit will become even more pressing. Providing more transparency and privacy can help companies stay ahead of those questions and retain the trust of consumers.