Trust mitigates privacy concerns, even with marketers

A research report released by the Direct Marketing Association (a U.K.-based entity) in cooperation with fast.MAP confirms that privacy concerns related to disclosing personal information continue to weigh on consumers’ minds, but also suggests that consumers are more willing to provide information to marketers if a relationship has been established between them. The extent to which a consumer’s relationship with a company is a trusting one appears more important in getting consumers to share personal information than financial incentives or material offers in exchange for the data.

In an interesting contrast to the information about marketers, the DMA Data Tracking study also found a large proportion of consumers (29% of more than 2,027 people surveyed) do not trust their banks to properly store or use the information they have about their customers, and an even greater percentage said they do not trust government agencies or political parties to handle personal data appropriately. Chris Combemale, DMA’s executive director, explained that people are understandably more protective their personal information, given the well-publicized instances of identify theft, data breaches, and other losses and unauthorized disclosures. He said that organizations who want to gather personal information from individuals have to overcome this justifiable resistance, both when collecting the data and once they get it:  “There has to be a clear trade-off in benefits to the consumer in doing so. Companies must also respect the privilege of being handed this data, or else they face the prospect of losing customers.” Considered with the findings about data collection by marketers, it would seem that the most valuable benefit to individuals is trust.

The survey findings and high-level analysis of the results reinforce a theory of interpersonal trust that says that — while there are some mechanisms such as assertions of reputation that might instill some confidence in one party with respect to the trustworthiness of another party unfamiliar to them — trust between two parties in a given context is relational, and trust is developed through repeated acts and occurrences over time. Once such trust does develop, the relational basis is more important to maintaining trust than outside information, as suggested by survey findings that only 3 out of 10 people stopped trusting entities or brands due to negative press reports or even reported data breaches. Overall, the key factors promoting consumers’ trust in companies include direct knowledge of the company, overt security and privacy practices such as website security controls and published privacy policies, and the longevity of the company. All of these factors have a clear correlation with increasing consumer confidence and, more relevant to trust, reducing consumer’s perceived risk in choosing to share personal data with a given entity. This too is well-supported by contemporary research on and conceptions of trust as the willingness to take risks based on the expectation that the trusted party will behave in a way desired by the truster, whether or not the truster has any ability to monitor the trusted party to act as expected.