Will People Ever Be Comfortable Sharing Data Online?



Neither people nor computers can really help you as a personal assistant unless you are willing to share data about what you like, what you feel and who and what you value. Even the best technology cannot read your mind, which is why a simple Google search often gives frustrating and irrelevant results while online advertisers bombard you with opportunities of no interest.
In addition, consumers have traditionally been reluctant to share personal information with any non-human entity, fearing some misuse or privacy invasion. As an advisor to entrepreneurs and a technologist, I am happy to report that the tide may be turning, and we are experiencing a new era of opportunity for entrepreneurs, and a new appreciation of the power of the digital world.
In his new book, “Digital Context 2.0: Seven Lessons in Business Strategy, Consumer Behavior, and the Internet of Things,” David W. Norton, Ph.D., a leading researcher on consumer behavior and the impact of digital, reports that decision makers, social media users and younger demographics are becoming more and more comfortable sharing data in order to close the gap between thought and action.
His latest study breaks the online consumer audience into the following 4 categories, based on their level of comfort with sharing personal information, likes and needs online:
1. High-comfort consumers – 12 percent. These consumers are willing to share data with a variety of companies if there is a perceived beneficial effect to the consumer behind the sharing. They believe that the benefits of sharing data are very much worth the price of providing access to their data. These are typically decision makers, shoppers and early adopters.
2. Context-comfortable consumers – 27 percent. For these people, data is willingly shared when it leads to more empowerment and better control. Examples cited include biometrics, tool productivity, environmental control, social visibility, relationship data and brand insight. This is the most rapidly growing segment, based on year-over-year data.
3. Reluctant consumers – 44 percent. This shrinking group is willing to share location, brand history and tool productivity data, but is still reticent to share social, biometric and environmental data. They continue to be more strongly influenced by traditional purchase motivators, such as store discounts, recommendations and proximity to a retailer.
4. No-comfort consumers – 17 percent. These tend to be older consumers at the average age of 52. They neither frequently use nor derive much satisfaction from social media, and would be classified as late adopters of new technology. They feel more susceptible to impulse purchases and offers.
Not surprisingly, brand trust plays a big role in consumer willingness to share data online across all categories. Google scores high for tools, location and social media data sharing, but not for biometric data. Apple gets great marks for consumer productivity, Walmart for brand data and Fidelity for finance data. Another key factor is perceived value, such as rewards and discounts.
The concern over the ability of companies to maintain security and a level of privacy of consumer data is still the biggest inhibitor to consumer comfort with digital systems. Continuing incidences of personal identity theft, as well major personal data breaches, including Heartland Payment System (2008), Target (2013) and Anthem (2015) still weigh heavily on their decision process.
The biggest positive is the inherent ability of digital tools and digital channels to organize and prioritize the natural consumer tendency to meander and try to do multiple things at the same time. Digital channels create queues and allow truly parallel processing capabilities for individuals, despite the daily distractions of life and business. That is real value for everyone.
With the advent of the Internet of Things, every ordinary household object has the potential of becoming a digital tool that can communicate personal data to the owner, businesses and other consumers. Thus it is both a challenge and a business opportunity for every entrepreneur to expand into new markets and grow their business. Is your business ready to ride the wave?

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by thierry_ehrmann

About the author: Martin Zwilling

Martin is the CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc., a consultancy focused on assisting entrepreneurs with mentoring, business strategy and planning, and networking.

Martin for years has provided entrepreneurs with first-hand advice, mentoring and business plan assistance as a startup consultant. He has a unique combination of business and high-tech experience, and executive mentoring and connecting startups with potential investors, board members, and service providers.

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