Consumers Report More Privacy Breaches, Little Faith in Marketers

April 15, 2014

GfK-Consumer-Trust-Personal-Data-Handling-Apr2014A pair of new studies highlight a growing problem for marketers: at a time when an explosion of data is offering marketers an array of new possibilities, consumers are reporting more privacy breaches and a low level of trust in marketers to protect their data. The Pew Research Center notes a growing share of online consumers who have had important personal information stolen – and a rising concern about the amount of personal data they have online. And as GfK finds [pdf], it seems they have little faith in marketers to handle their data responsibly.


According to the Pew results, some 18% of online adults have had important personal information – such as their Social Security number, credit card, or bank information – stolen. That comes from a survey conducted in January 2014, and represents a hefty increase from 11% reporting stolen information in a July 2013 survey. The 30-49 and 50-64 age groups appear to be among the most afflicted; 1 in 5 online adults in each group reported having their data stolen as of the January survey. Moreover, the share of 18-29-year-olds falling victim to data theft more than doubled in the space of the two surveys, from 7% to 15%.

An even greater proportion – 21% – said that they have had an email or social networking account compromised or taken over without their permission, though that figure is unchanged from the earlier survey. Nevertheless, half of internet users are now worried about the amount of personal information that’s available about them online, up from 33% expressing such a concern in 2009.

The GfK survey comes to similar conclusions: 59% of adults surveyed said that their levels of concern surrounding their data have risen in the last 12 months. And roughly 9 in 10 are at least a little concerned with the protection of their personal data, including half who are very much concerned. The level of concern is consistent across generations, too.

Also fairly consistent across age groups is the percentage who have been personally affected by misuse of personal data, which stands at about 1 in 3 adults overall.

Marketers and advertisers aren’t immune from these problems. While consumers believe that a range of industries – and the government – need to do more to protect their data, a majority agree that marketers and advertisers need to change their policies and activities when it comes to data privacy and use of personal data. And when asked how much they trust marketers and advertisers with regard to how their personal data is handled, just one-quarter responded that they trust them completely or mostly. By contrast, a sizable 64% said they don’t really trust them or don’t trust them at all.

To put that in perspective, marketers and advertisers are the least trusted of 23 organizations; consumers are almost 3 times as likely to trust hospitals and healthcare providers (72%) and online payment systems (71%) as they are to trust marketers and advertisers (25%) with their data.

There do appear to be some generational differences when it comes to faith in marketers and advertisers. While only a slight majority of Gen Z (19-24) and Gen Y (25-34) respondents don’t trust them, that figure climbs all the way to 78% of pre-Boomers (69+). Similarly, 35% of Gen Z respondents disagree with the statement: “I use free services online and on smartphones/tablets and don’t mind if my data is potentially also used for advertising purposes.” Pre-Boomers? Almost 8 in 10 disagree.

It should be noted that both the Pew and the GfK surveys were conducted before news of the Heartbleed bug broke – surveys conducted today would likely find a much more concerned consumer.

And yet levels of concern with online privacy have been ongoing for some time. Following are some recent pieces of research surrounding this issue:

About the Data: The Pew data comes from omnibus surveys conducted in July 2013 and January 2014. The PSRAI January 2014 Omnibus Week 4 obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,002 adults living in the continental United States. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (500) and cell phone (502, including 292 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Interviews were done in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from January 23 to 26, 2014. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.5 percentage points.

The GfK results are based on a survey of 1,000 adults (18+) in the US, fielded from March 7-9, 2014.

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