Modern field guide to security and privacy

Survey: Consumers reject companies that don't protect privacy

At Thursday’s Data Privacy Day event in Washington, Passcode joined privacy and security experts to explore US consumers' evolving attitudes about digital privacy.

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
A person used a sensor for biometric identification on a smartphone.

Concerned with security and privacy online, consumers are turning away from companies they don't consider trustworthy stewards of their personal data.

According to a study released Thursday by the data privacy company TRUSTe and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), 89 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t patronize companies that don't adequately protect their data. This is down slightly from last year's 91 percent.

Worries about personal data collection were so important that almost 70 percent said understanding data collection practices trumped concerns about losing their primary source of income.

"Consumers will not do business with companies that don’t respect their privacy, companies they don’t trust," said Chris Wolf, cochair of the Future of Privacy Forum. Mr. Wolf spoke on a panel Thursday at the National Cyber Security Alliance’s "Data Privacy Day" event of which Passcode was a media partner. 

One of the primary concerns for those surveyed was whether their information would be shared with third-party companies such as advertisers. Lining up with other recent studies, the TRUSTe survey found that 71 percent of consumers are dialing back online activity due to concerns over digital security and privacy.

"When you have an unknown, that raises concerns generally," said NCSA's executive director Michael Kaiser, who also participated in Thursday's Data Privacy Day panel that explored consumers' evolving views of privacy. 

The study found, however, consumers consistently did not take steps they knew would bolster their privacy. For instance, just 29 percent of those surveyed turned off tracking features on their smartphone despite 43 percent saying they knew they could turn it off. Likewise, while 33 percent knew they could read privacy policies, only 16 percent actually did.

Still, Eric Wenger, director of cybersecurity and privacy policy at Cisco, said that was a positive step.

"People are making decisions," said Mr. Wenger, who also participated in the Data Privacy Day event. "They might be making them at a lower rate than we’d like because we’re so sensitized to the issues," but any progress toward safer practices is good progress, Wenger said. 

Business, others said, must take partial responsibility for building trust with consumers.

"We’re putting too much burden on the individual," said the Future of Privacy Forum’s Wolf. Like purchasing a car, Wolf said, consumers shouldn't have to extensively vet the online security of a business. "I don’t know how [a car] works, and I’m putting a lot of trust in the people who make the car to get me from point A to B safely."

Editor's note: This story was updated after publication to clarify that TRUSTe is a data privacy company.

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