Whether it’s emails informing retail customers about stolen passwords, product ads that stubbornly follow online shoppers around the web, or smartphone tracking in-store, sometimes it can feel like genuine digital privacy and security are a thing of the past, according to a new eMarketer report, “Privacy and Security Post-Heartbleed: Making Shoppers Feel Safer.”
There has always been some degree of concern over digital privacy and personal data, but until recently, consumer attitudes had remained relatively steady. With electronic surveillance by the US government in the news, followed by Target’s data breach during the height of the holiday shopping season, 2013 set the stage for a more skeptical era, one that continues to snowball with incidents like the Heartbleed security bug discovered in April 2014 and the May 2014 cyberattack on eBay. At the same time, more sophisticated in-store tracking and targeting has set mobile phone-toting shoppers on edge, even though cookies and data collection have been common practice in the online realm for over a decade.
Even if security breaches never become eradicated altogether and personal information is never fully private, there are several steps retailers can take to address consumer concerns and maintain trust, and being more transparent is one. While it is clear that some consumers will never be comfortable with retailers using any amount of their personal data, many would be less suspicious if they knew how their information was being utilized. According to an April 2014 study conducted by Coleman Parkes Research for Accenture, just 35% of US internet users thought businesses were transparent enough about how they used personal information. The leading solutions to combat this were having companies email details and updates on usage (51%) and always being able to opt out (44%). Boston Consulting Group (BCG) October 2013 polling saw a big increase in the number of US consumers who would be willing to let companies use their data if they could be assured it wouldn’t be used in “harmful” ways. Only 3% of respondents said they would be comfortable with companies using data in ways beyond its originally intended purpose, but more than half (53%) were comfortable if assured that harm would be prevented. In addition, 75% of US consumers would want “simple tools” to control how personal data was used.