The Risks and Rewards of Today’s Data Privacy Landscape

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Most consumers have come to rely on the convenience of digital services, making them willing to exchange the use of their personal data for the ease of personalized experiences as they go about their daily digital lives. Which is why, even after reading the headlines about the “breach du jour” (Cambridge Analytica, Equifax, retailers, banks, smart devices), most of us carry on with business as usual. We trust that big, multinational corporations under scrutiny will see the business sense in doing the right thing with personal data—as a consumer, I’m usually more comfortable sharing my information with, say, Google than I am with random e-commerce startup Brand X.

However, with media outlets like The New York Times working to educate consumers and legislators striving to protect consumers’ rights with the introduction of CCPA and GDPR, awareness of the possible costs of these privacy trade-offs is growing, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to understand the changing privacy landscape. That’s why we commissioned a new Privacy Report from Wakefield Research, asking both consumers and marketers about how they feel about the risks and rewards of data practices today.

Mind the Privacy Sensitivity Gap

Marketers and consumers come at data privacy from different angles, so it’s not surprising to see a difference of opinion between the two surveyed groups. But there is a glaring gap: 82% of U.S. adults say that data privacy is very important to them, while only 29% of marketers believe data privacy is very important to consumers.

The difference comes from the fact that marketers are paying attention to how consumers “vote” with their actions and opt-ins; people’s behavior suggests that the value of personalization is worth providing some of their data. I may say that I want to protect my private consumer data at all costs, but if that means having no browser history to autofill forms, no personalized recommendations on my music streaming service, or no remembered orders on my food-delivery app, I might be more willing to share.

The notable divide here suggests that brands need to be mindful of consumer comfort around what data is being collected and how it’s being used in order to avoid alienating audiences.

No Surprises, Please

Here is where we see another big divide in opinion: 58% of marketing executives believe they should inform consumers when their data is shared and with whom, while 94% of consumers expect companies to tell them about the use of their data.

People want to see that the way their data is being used is in line with the benefits they expect to receive from the business. If my pharmacy asks for my mobile number, I can expect to receive SMS updates about my prescription. I would not expect the pharmacy to sell or trade that number to a food-delivery service that can then start sending me burger promotions.

Successful disclosure means not giving your customers unpleasant surprises in the form of unexpected uses of their data, and businesses should make clear to their customers why they are collecting data and what the customer will receive in return. We can all agree that an endless scroll of dense legalese that no one reads doesn’t really do the job.

Privacy Is Good for Everybody

There is real business value to practicing privacy by design, and 45% of marketers believe that even stricter privacy laws would actually facilitate innovation (even as 83% say there’s no need to implement consumer privacy protections that are not required by law). As with the launch of the Apple Card this year, embracing consumer privacy can lead to real moments of customer delight.

Thinking of privacy while at the strategy table will create a competitive advantage compared to businesses that look only to their legal team for guidance on what’s right for their customers. Those businesses that truly evolve to best serve their customers’ data privacy rights are not only less likely to be blindsided by future legislative action, but also may well find innovative improvements to their own data architecture along the way. Product and engineering teams that work to accommodate ever greater privacy and security control may find that they’re doing their future selves a favor, too.

Implementing GDPR’s requirements for the ability to “forget” customer data involved a massive amount of change in information architecture. Existing data processes and future product plans had to be adjusted to ensure that requests for the rectification or deletion of customer data could be honored.

When it comes to data privacy and customer engagement, things are only going to become more complex, more onerous, and more technically involved in the future. But, together, we can raise the bar so that we create the safer data world in which we all want to live.

Jon Hyman is cofounder and CTO at Braze.