Privacy Paradox: Americans Happy to Share Personal Data With Big Business

The key finding: People will allow access to personal data if they get clear benefits in return Photograph by Getty Images

It’s official: Americans may freak out when government collects their data to track terrorists, but they would happily have banks use it to catch some jerk trying to hack into their accounts.

A global consumer study commissioned by Infosys found Americans less concerned about sharing personal data with companies than are consumers in countries such as Germany. About 88 percent of Americans said they’re comfortable sharing online data with retailers, while only 57 percent of Germans said the same. In banking, personal data sharing was O.K. with 83 percent in the U.S and 56 percent in Germany; the health-care realm saw approval fall to 77 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

The study covers 5,000 consumers in the U.S.. Germany, and three additional countries (not Russia, Ecuador, and China, the apparent destinations of choice for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, but the more conventional pollster stomping grounds of the U.K., France, and Australia). The key finding: People will allow access to personal data if they get clear benefits in return. That means seat upgrades, fluffy pillows, and fraud protection, not a general feeling that their country might be more secure.

The challenge is how they’re willing to share it. Giving data to your doctor is fine during a face-to-face interaction, but very few consumers want doctors, retailers, or banks to have access to their social profiles. (Who knows how those party pics may come back to haunt you when it’s time to get that home loan or a physical for work?) And while consumers want more personalized offers and marketing from retailers, they’d rather the information be mined from past behavior than have to hand it over themselves.

Given the choice between pizza and privacy, though, a remarkable number will opt for the pizza. Had Snowden uncovered data tracking by banks, he would probably be hanging around Madison Avenue, instead of Moscow at the moment. That’s something to think about as U.S. senators debate new legislation that limits the ability of federal intelligence agencies to track and collect data on Americans. Maybe what Washington needs isn’t more legislation but more incentives and better marketing to explain the benefits on a personal level.

For more information on the Infosys study, click here. You’ll have to give up some data to read the entire report.

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