Privacy vs Convenience

Is the information marketers are using really that private?
Back in the day, you walked into a local store to make a purchase. From the moment you walk in, the store employee can make assumptions of your age, gender, and preferences based on their first impression. If you frequent the store, they could recognize you from previous times you have purchased products at their store. They may even remember what you bought, or products you like to purchase and purchase regularly. If you go there frequently enough, you might have signed up for a loyalty card or rewards program to save money on your frequent purchases. They might even know your name. You may have even mentioned you live close to the store, or you were just in the area. That kind of personal experience is expected of companies, but when it happens online it is an argument of privacy.

Online companies are starting from square one. They are selling to an anonymous buyer. If you are looking to replace a pair of headphones you’ve lost, and you start out your search on Google typing in headphones, Google will pull up whoever has paid the most to show up at the top for the generic keyword of headphones. But, if you have a pair of headphones that you prefer because they fit better, and you have bought these headphones before, that company can remember you as a valued customer who likes their headphones. When you search headphones, if they are doing paid search right, they will show up. Just like if you went into the physical store and they remembered you had purchased those headphones before, the online store wants to remember its customers and their preferences.

Although the convenience we get from sharing our data with companies is a great benefit, we cannot talk about privacy and convenience without addressing the issues we have seen in 2018. Facebook’s misuse of user data and Equifax’ data breach putting users at risk of identity theft and credit card fraud have caused consumers to be more aware of the data they are providing companies and what companies are doing with that data. Pew Research1 data says that 51% of Americans surveyed do not trust their social media sites to protect their data. Almost as many respondents to the Pew study (49%) said they don’t trust the government to protect their data either.

But, where does the mistrust come from? Consumers do not make up their minds about privacy in a vacuum. They’re influenced by the media and politicians who both tend to lean anti-marketing, even if the consumer is more concerned about other things, like fraud. The problem is the buzz word “privacy” is being used as a catch-all. In reality there are many reasons to want to keep certain information private:

  • Criminal activity, such as identity theft or credit card fraud, a la the Equifax breach
  • Government agencies like the NSA knowing too much about its citizens
  • Political actors like Cambridge Analytica and foreign powers accessing data
  • And, yes, misuse of personal data to sell us things

But, do they all require the same level of privacy?


Consumers have proven that when it comes to the use of personal data to sell them things, they prefer convenience over privacy.

  • Slightly less than half (49%) of U.S. consumers worry about privacy, but almost as many (44%) are frustrated when companies fail to deliver a personalized experience. 2
  • 48% of consumers have left a website and bought elsewhere because the experience was poorly curated – up from 40% last year. 3
  • 73%, globally, say that no business has ever communicated with them in a way that felt too personalized. 3
  • 83% of global consumers are willing to share their data to enable a personalized experience. 3

The data is not being misused to sell you things. It is being used to bring that personalized, convenient in-store experience online. Marketers want to recreate that feeling of familiarity that you get when you walk into a local store and they can see you. They want to be able to recognize you as someone who has shopped there before. They want to know what you usually buy so they can have it ready for you. They want to give you a deal on your purchase because they appreciate your loyalty to their business. They want to know your name so every time you come back you feel like they remember you. Marketers want to give you the best user experience possible because there is no better marketing than a personal connection. Their goal is to make your online experience feel personal.