How Online Consumer Privacy is Evolving

An abundance of recent privacy-related headlines have given internet users a lot of food-for-thought on their digital footprints and the wider security implications. Front of mind here are how these behaviors may be impacting the integrity of personal information online, and how this data is being used by companies.

This comes at a time when the EU is set to implement sweeping online consumer privacy measures in its GDPR initiative to give back control to the consumer.

But in such a fast-moving digital landscape, it’s worth taking a step back to consider not only how acute current privacy reservations are, but how they might be magnified by newer technologies that become commonplace faster than expected.

Consumers are becoming more privacy-conscious

Our data shows consumers are getting more concerned about their digital footprint.

25% strongly agree that they are worried about the internet eroding their personal privacy.

This figure has been slowly increasing from 18% in 2013. This issue is also evident when we ask about the corporate use of data. Globally, just over 1 in 4 internet users strongly agree with the statement “I worry about how my personal data is being used by companies”.

These privacy-conscious consumers exist within all world regions, reaching a significant high of over 1 in 2 in Latin America.

And these are concerns that are inspiring action. The most popular consumer tool allowing people to regain control of their online privacy is deleting cookies. This is to stop companies collecting their browsing information; 46% did this last month.

It’s also a similar number making use of private browsing windows, although whether the consumer knows it or not, this only affects data collection locally on their own device. Companies are still able to see their browsing behaviors from their end.

Other tools at the consumer’s disposal, like ad-blocking software or Virtual Private Networks (VPN), also afford them more control over their online footprints. It’s likely that uptake of these tools will grow in future, especially with the escalation of privacy concerns in the media spreading awareness.

But when we dig a little deeper, privacy constitutes just one motivation for using these tools.

Privacy protection tools are gaining traction

Let’s start with ad-blocking.

43% of online adults are now blocking ads on any device.

When we rank their motivations for ad-blocking, however, privacy considerations feature quite far down the list. Ad-blockers are far more concerned about ad-intrusiveness, ad-overload, and the impact of this on the quality of their browsing experience.

It’s a similar story for VPN usage.

More than 1 in 4 internet users get online using a VPN, with one third doing so for more anonymity.

But there are factors that weigh in much more heavily than privacy. Most of all, it’s entertainment. Half of VPN users are leveraging these tools to gain access to better entertainment content, such as accessing better Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) content libraries in the U.S., for example.

In short, privacy is a major issue, but it is by no means the quintessential driver behind consumers’ desire to gain more control over their online experiences.

Consumers may not be aware of how their data is used by companies, but an increasingly significant number are aware of the fundamentals of how their data is being collected when browsing online.

New technologies like voice tech and smart appliances mean we’re entering unfamiliar territories, which could make privacy a bigger concern.

Voice tech is signalling a rethink of privacy

Consumer adoption of voice tech has been impressive in the last couple of years to say the least.

27% of internet users have used voice command tools on their mobiles in the past month.

2 in 3 of these are either using “private browsing” functionality or deleting cookies; and over 6 in 10 are ad-blocking each month. It’s also almost half deploying VPNs each month.

It’s important to note that voice search is a fundamentally different way of engaging online that many consumers might not yet know how to keep “private”. Voice tech does not yet have the same level of familiarity, or the same availability of consumer privacy tools, to allow selectivity about data sharing.

Consumers do have the option to opt out of data sharing agreements, also to look back at their previous voice searches and listen to them again, or delete them. But much of the noise concerning how this data is collected and used has drawn attention from the media as an unknown.

The balance between convenience, privacy and security for new technologies like voice search often rests upon brands being transparent with their customers.

Educating them about the value exchange between data collection and meaningful return for consumers will be especially important as voice expands its presence throughout homes worldwide.