Fear of inadequate protection of personal data has compelled half of consumers to reject or cancel doing business with a company. This is just one of several findings of a survey of U.S. consumers and businesses on privacy, trust and access to personal data released today by Accenture.
The survey revealed a wide chasm between business and consumers on these topics. Among the survey's other key findings:
- Businesses and consumers have differing ideas about what engenders and what undermines trust.
- Consumers' actions regarding personal data are not always consistent with their stated beliefs about data privacy issues.
- Consumers trust their employers, banks and HMO/health insurance providers most with their private information, while trusting online retailers and supermarkets the least.
- Consumers overestimate the amount of personal information that companies are permitted to collect about them, while businesses acknowledge collecting some consumer data to which they believe they are not entitled.
"In an age where technology links people, devices, objects, companies and information systems in a global network, there are profound privacy and trust implications," said Glover T. Ferguson, chief scientist, Accenture. "In many cases businesses respond to this kind of rapid change reactively, contributing to the chasm. Companies need to take a new approach to privacy, not focusing merely on compliance of privacy laws, but on building trusted relationships with customers."
The chasm between businesses and consumers was reflected in a number of areas, including what undermines trust. For example, 74 percent of businesses blame online security fears for compromising consumer trust, while three-fourths (67 percent) of consumers cited aggressive marketing as the factor that undermines their trust in business.
Businesses and consumers also have differing ideas about what engenders trust. Business respondents most frequently (43 percent) cite positive customer service as most instrumental in positively influencing trust, while nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of consumers said that trust most frequently results from either company's reputation or length of the relationship. In addition, while the majority of businesses underestimate the importance of their privacy policies, deeming them unlikely to influence consumer perception, more than half (51 percent) of the consumers surveyed said they avoid dealing with companies whose privacy policies make them uncomfortable. At the same time, consumers overestimate the amount of personal information that companies can and do collect about them without permission.
"This discrepancy points to a need for companies to better educate consumers about the kind of information they collect and why," said Ferguson. "Most consumers said they would be more trusting if companies were more forthcoming about how they use personal data."
Findings of the survey also indicate inconsistencies between consumers' beliefs and their actions regarding personal data and trust. For instance, although nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of consumers said they worry that sharing personal information would result in unsolicited e-mail and phone queries, a practice known as "spam," more than two-thirds (69 percent) of consumers said they are willing to readily surrender personal information in exchange for rewards such as cash, convenience and bonus points. "Companies need to address these very legitimate concerns, as the issue of privacy and trust will continue to grow in importance, particularly with the emergence of radio frequency identification (RFID) and other technologies, which have raised concerns among some who think the technologies can be used to eavesdrop on consumers," said Ferguson. "On the other hand, there's also danger in a businesses not maximizing the insight gained from customer data and new technologies. Rather than posing a hurdle to overcome, companies should view their customers' privacy needs as an opportunity through which they can differentiate themselves as trust leaders, increase their financial value and even energize entire economies."
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