The tech perspective on consumer privacy

Earlier this summer, after surveying my peers, I wrote a blog post on the Millennial generation’s view on consumer privacy. This post, inspired by a New York Times review of a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication, detailed how Millennials perceived the collection and use of consumer data.

I found that the Millennials displayed a more relaxed attitude towards data collection than the general population Penn surveyed. However, they highlighted the importance of marketers asking for consent before collecting their data.

As I end my internship with HangIt, I repeated my survey, but with a different set of individuals: technology professionals. After 11 weeks of networking in the tech sector, I surveyed my new contacts on their view of consumer privacy (I did not use statistical survey methodology). I hypothesized that the tech sector would also display a more relaxed attitude toward data collection. The survey responses confirm my predictions, but contained some surprises.

I asked the same questions found in Penn’s study with the addition of one question regarding mobile location (the Millennials survey had the same questions). The table below shows the responses from the three cohorts: the general population of Penn’s survey, Millennials (aged 16-24), and technology professionals.

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Tech Sector vs. Overall Population

Unsurprisingly, the tech sector showed a more relaxed attitude towards data collection than the general population. For example, 30.4% of the tech professionals agreed (strongly agree and agree) that it was fair for companies to give them a discount in exchange for information, compared to only 8% of the general population. Additionally, 69.9% of technology respondents agreed that it would be okay if a store they shopped at used their information to improve the services the store provided. However, only 42% of the respondents to the Penn survey thought such data collection was acceptable.

In question 2, the tech respondents and the Penn respondents had more similar viewpoints. Around 27% of both cohorts believed it was fair for an online or physical store to collect data in exchange for free WiFi. However, the tech sector disagreed less fervently than the general population. 53% of Penn survey takers strongly disagreed with question 2, compared to 17.4% of tech survey takers.

Tech Sector vs. Millennials

More surprisingly, but not entirely unexpected, the tech sector showed an even more relaxed attitude towards data collection than the Millennials. 30.4% of the the tech professionals agreed that it was fair for companies to give them a discount in exchange for information, compared to only 4% of the Millennial cohort. Additionally, while similar percentages of the Millennial cohort and the tech cohort, believed data collection could create a better shopping experience (question 3, see table above), 17.4% of the tech sector strongly agreed with the question, but only 5.3% of Millennials strongly agreed.

Furthermore, I asked an additional question in my survey (question 4) regarding mobile location since it pertains to my internship at HangIt. The tech sector again showed a more relaxed attitude. 78.3% of the tech cohort thought it was acceptable for a mobile application to track their location and send their device notifications based on their current locations, compared to 62.7% of the Millennial cohort.

Still Hope for Privacy?

Above 80% of each cohort wanted to have control over what marketers could learn about them (question 5, see table). However, the tech sector believed they still have some degree of control over their privacy. In question 6, 39.1% of the tech cohort disagreed with the statement; “I’ve come to accept I have little control of what marketers can learn about me online,” compared to 10.7% of the Millennial cohort and 34% of the Penn cohort.

I think the tech sector disagreed with the statement for different reasons than the general population. The tech professionals, since they work in the industry, probably know of more ways to protect their data, than the average person. One tech survey taker advocated that all consumers should be educated about methods of data collection, data analysis and data usage since “not all users are informed and know how information gathering, analytics, etc. works.”

Additionally, tech professionals would either be among the first individuals to learn about or themselves create innovations in the field of consumer privacy. Another tech respondent discussed “ …a separate dashboard/application to control/monitor inputs and outputs of data shared. Turn on/off organizations and keep track of data in real time…” Tech professionals are aware of the positives and negatives of data sharing. They are looking to maximize the benefits, while minimizing the downside.

Maybe the tech respondents just have more clear boundaries on what they are willing to share and what they are not, and ensure their online presence reflect those boundaries. Whatever the reason, the tech cohort still maintains some hope for privacy, so perhaps we all can too.

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