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The Privacy Advisor | Study finds 93% of US citizens would switch to privacy-conscious organizations Related reading: Privacy tech vendors, investors offer best practices for fundraising


Transcend CEO Ben Brook said it was roughly around 2017 when he and his company began to notice a key trend emerging around privacy in the U.S.

Brook pointed to that year as the time American customers started to both demand privacy rights and cast a more critical eye on companies misusing their information.

Given the results of Transcend's recently released "Data Privacy Feedback Loop 2020" report, customers' feelings toward privacy have only intensified over the past three years.

Transcend polled 1,000 Americans for its annual report and the findings show customers are more willing than ever to take their business to another company should they continue to lack in their commitment to privacy.

Of the respondents polled, 93% said they would switch to a company that prioritizes data privacy, and another 91% would prefer to buy from a company "that always guarantees them access to their information."

Brook believes this finding is the report's standout statistic.

"The most important finding here is that people are now actually starting to vote with their dollars," Brook said. "It’s one to thing to say that privacy is important; it’s another to say that consumers are willing to switch."

While a vast majority of customers said they would switch, a select group said they would even go a step further, as 38% said they believe it is worth spending more data with a company with a strong privacy stance.

It's a figure that reiterates Brook's observation of customers voting with their wallets. As privacy awareness grows, individuals are not willing to part with their data unless it is for a worthy investment.

"We live in an age when privacy is often a trade-off for a free product," Brook said. "The reason we asked this is because when we are talking about switching, we are talking about whether there are alternatives. To have business models that serve as an alternative while being privacy-preserving often means that people need to pay more or switch away from free services. It is amazing to see the degree to which Americans are willing to pay more."

For those who have attempted to exercise their data rights, the consensus indicates the systems organizations have in place are lacking. The report found 88% of customers said they are "frustrated by the fact that they don’t have control over their personal data and they wish the process were easier." Another 94% said they wanted a better experience when they get their data back from a company.

Brook said the methods most organizations use to respond to data subject requests are simply not user-friendly.

"Most companies are on a sort of ‘version one’ of data rights where people have to write in to an email inbox and request directly to the legal team to access or erase their data," Brook said. "That kicks off an incredibly arduous and manual process that can feel like going to the (Department of Motor Vehicles). You may be on the phone with them for hours and email them a photo of their passport, and within the 30 days in Europe or 90 days in California with an extension maybe you’ll have your rights fulfilled."

Those extended response times do not vibe with an American populace that has little interest in waiting to get their data. The vast majority of respondents want their data as soon as possible, as 56% said they want immediate access to their information, and 80% said they should be able to get their data back within 24 hours of making a request.

The divide between prolonged response times and expectation of immediacy from customers comes down to an infrastructure problem, and Brook said it will take work from all sides to streamline the process.

"Within the companies, data flows away from consumers into businesses onto a 12 lane superhighway. It’s all instantaneous. You visit a website, and there may be 30 companies notified within a fraction of a second and that data gets inserted at incredible speeds," Brook said. "But to play it backward and flow data back to the consumer, the infrastructure there is like a dirt road. There’s no infrastructure there yet, and it’s up to companies and the industry to build that data privacy infrastructure so that we can actually meet the consumers’ expectations around data rights."

An emphasis on these areas is a big way organizations can win the trust of customers, especially for those companies with a perceived poor privacy reputation. Entities that do not offer customers explicit access to their information are viewed by 59% of respondents as untrustworthy, 44% as unethical and 16% as lazy.

It's not a change that will appear overnight, but Brook said companies can slowly begin to regain their patrons' trust by ensuring they are transparent with their data practices and offering exercisable controls to the end-user.

These are not numbers Brook expects to go down any time soon, and it will definitely be the case in the event a U.S. privacy law is passed; he said national legislation would "solidify "the findings in the report.

Respondents seem to agree, as 94% said they feel privacy will be "even more critical" five years into the future.

But there is one another timing piece of note concerning when the polling for the report took place. Brook said Americans were asked these questions in mid-June of this year, right in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brook said he was personally curious to see where Americans stood on privacy in the midst of a global crisis. The EU General Data Protection Regulation, California Consumer Privacy Act and incidents such as Cambridge Analytica raised privacy's profile, but there was a distinct possibility the focus would be on the pandemic first with everything else trailing behind.

The findings proved to Brook that this wasn't the case.

"Even during the pandemic, these are pretty stark findings. To me, it means that even in a time when consumers have so many things to worry, privacy still is up there with the other top 10 things on their mind," Brook said. "To be able to poll this high during the pandemic means that privacy has just passed its greatest test." 

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

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