A more relaxed attitude towards data collection, but marketers should ask first

A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication looked at how individuals perceive the collection and use of consumer data. Reading a review of the study in the NYT, prompted me to wonder how my peers in the Millennial Generation view the issue.

Penn’s survey studied all age categories of individuals, ranging from 18-89, with the majority of the respondents in the 35-49 age category. I wanted to see if young adults in my generation, the millennial generation, felt differently about data collection. I decided to conduct an informal survey of my peers (I did not use statistical survey methodology) to determine if my generation had a more relaxed attitude towards data collection.

I surveyed 75 people between the ages of 16-24 to determine if a younger age resulted in a more open attitude towards data collection. I asked the same questions found in Penn’s study with the addition of one question regarding mobile location.

° Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

*Penn did not provide “neither agree or disagree” as multiple choice option, but instead a volunteered option

**Question not asked in Penn survey

Millenials vs. Overall Population

In some categories, my results were very similar to those found in the Penn study. For example, 86% of respondents to my survey did not believe it was fair to exchange personal information for a discount on products. The Penn survey found 91% of respondents believed the above exchange was unfair. However, in some categories, the millennial generation displayed a more relaxed attitude. 64% of respondents to my survey agreed that it would be okay if a store they shopped at used their information to improve the services the store provided. Only 42% of the respondents to the Penn survey thought such data collection was acceptable.

Using Location for Messaging

Furthermore, I asked survey takers an additional question in my survey regarding mobile location since it pertains to my internship at HangIt. I found that 64% of respondents think it is acceptable for a mobile application to track their location and send their device notifications based on their current locations. Though the Penn survey did not ask this question, I believe Penn survey takers would have had a more negative attitude towards this question.

Controlling Data Collection

Both cohorts of survey takers want control over what marketers can learn about them; yet, have accepted they have little control over this. Interestingly, a higher percentage of the millennial generation (76%) has a resigned attitude towards data collection, compared to 65% of respondents to the Penn survey (see table above, question 6). I believe the higher sense of resignation of the millennial generations contributes allows to be more accepting of data collection than older generations. My generation may think if we cannot stop data collection, companies might as well use the data to improve the services they provide us.

I also allowed survey takers to record any other thoughts they had on data collection. These additional comments were varied, but had one common thread: informed consent. Survey takers emphasized the importance of informed consent in data collection. One survey taker said all of his/her responses would switch from agree to disagree if a company did not secure his or her consent.

Some other comments on informed consent included:

  • “Informed consent is key.”
  • “I think it’s fair for companies to offer discounts in exchange for personal information etc. but they should make it transparent to the customer so the customer knows what they are giving in exchange for the discount, using WiFi, turning on location services, shopping at the store, etc. I don’t like giving my information but I think it’s fair for companies to collect it if I personally opt in.”
  • “I’m generally fine with having information collected about me, having come to expect it in this day and age. However, I think there should always be some kind of opt-in/opt-out, or at least a clear notice that information is being collected, because many people don’t realize just what they’re giving away. For example, on mobile applications, I almost always disallow location tracking because knowing my physical location is over the line for me personally, but other forms of data collection aren’t.”
Marketers, Mind Your Manners

While the Millennial generation does have a more relaxed attitude towards data collection, companies must respect the end user to achieve continued acceptance.

Karen Pattani-Hason of Urban Airship encourages her clients to not overuse their ability to send targeted messages to their app users based on the data they collect. She explains even though the client has the ability to send a message to the user, he or she should only do so if it provides value to the end user. I agree with her advice.

Overall, consumer privacy will continue to be a concern as technology becomes increasingly pervasive. However, if companies always ask for consent and respectfully use the data, they can use the power of data to customize and personalize their products and services, particularly for my generation.


About the Blogger: Laya Mallela is a full time student at Cornell University’s Dyson School, where she is pursuing a degree in Applied Economics and Management, with concentrations in marketing and finance. She has just completed her second year. As an intern at HangIt, Laya is excited to learn and explore the tech scene of NYC. She can be reached at laya.mallela@hangit.com