Protecting People, Not Just Data: What Consumers Trust by Industry Suggests About Privacy

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Every day, companies seek more data to better understand and appeal to their audiences. Often, the rush to analyze, engage, and convert people loses sight of the most important part: creating meaningful relationships with real people that are rooted in trust and respect. People become leads, converters, or some other disenfranchised and dehumanizing term that belittles the true value of the brand-to-person relationship. When this happens and people view others not as people but as merely variables affecting sales, mistakes begin to happen, and the very people we are looking to engage and nurture lose faith in us.

That’s why every person’s data must be viewed, protected, and respected as much as the person themselves. When people choose to share their data with a company, that company must treat that person as though they are welcomed guests within their home. People should, rightfully, feel confident in the data-sharing choices they make, knowing that the data they share — much like conversations in confidence between close friends — will not be misused.

Unfortunately, many industries struggle to provide that sense of confidence. Recently, we surveyed over 17,000 members of the DISQO Audience — a group of people who have opted in to give their opinions for market research purposes and are rewarded for their participation — about how much they trust various industries to respect and protect their data. In short, social, search, and media companies have the most room for improvement.

For instance, a mere 4.2% of people express a strong degree of trust that social media companies will respect and protect their data, and only 32.5% of people have any measure of trust in this regard. Meanwhile, over half (53.1%) expressed active distrust of social media platforms. 

Trust in the search engine giants isn’t much better. More people distrust search engines (44.1%) than trust them to respect their privacy and protect their data (38.9%). Given our collective reliance on search engines to learn more about the world around us, this level of distrust is unacceptable.

Interestingly, albeit not surprisingly, trust improves as people are given more choice and feel less pressured to give information. For instance, media streaming services are an optional entertainment luxury which require little personal information to be shared by the individual to enjoy the content, and these entities garner more general trust (46.9%) than search or social sites. Granted, repeated stories of compromised accounts have clouded trust here, as nearly a third of people (30.4%) still distrust media companies.

When people are empowered to choose from a wide variety of providers — such as when they engage in online shopping — trust levels improve further. Indeed, a majority (56.1%) of people have some level of trust in retailers they interact with to protect their data. To a certain degree, this trust should be expected — and should arguably be higher — given that these retailers process credit card payments and wield significant personally identifiable information about each shopper.

Perhaps this is also why, in our study, people expressed the highest level of trust with their financial institutions. Between regulatory safeguards and the self-serving interest of these organizations to protect the financial assets of their customers, 70.5% of people trust banks to a fair degree, and 15.8% of people place a high degree of trust in financial institutions. Granted, as sensitive as financial information might be, it still only encompasses one aspect of an individual’s life, so the perceived risk of broken trust is more easily compartmentalized as people assess the risk of their data being misused. A bank can restore stolen funds, but social media cannot restore a stolen reputation.

So, where does this leave the market research industry? Every day, researchers depend on the candid and honest sharing of information by their audiences. Every day, people choose to share information with research platforms, trusting in us to be dutiful gatekeepers and protectors of their information. By openly engaging people, clearly stating our purpose, and putting their privacy and data security first and foremost, researchers and insights platforms can and do foster considerable trust with their audiences.

For instance, market research firms ranked second only to financial institutions on our trust index, with 52.7% confirming their trust in market research firms to protect their data, and 8.8% noting a strong trust in the same. Indeed, even though people arguably share similarly sensitive information on both social media sites and with researchers, they are 1.6 times more likely to trust researchers than social platforms.

Why is this? It’s because it is the duty and responsibility of market researchers to foster a relationship of trust by openly engaging people, diligently protecting their data and privacy, and fairly rewarding them for their participation — and it is because that mission is continuously reinforced and communicated.

People and the data they share have value. It’s up to all of us — researchers, marketers, and brands — to respect, protect, and nurture them as such.

Barbie Koelker is Vice President of Marketing at DISQO.