A massive majority of consumers believe that using their data to personalize ads is unethical. And a further 76% believe that personalization to create tailored newsfeeds -- precisely what Facebook, Twitter, and other social applications do every day -- is unethical.
At least, that's what they say on surveys.
RSA surveyed 6,000 adults in Europe and America to evaluate how our attitudes are changing towards data, privacy, and personalization. The results don't look good for surveillance capitalism, or for the free services we rely on every day for social networking, news, and information-finding.
"Less than half (48 percent) of consumers believe there are ethical ways companies can use their data," RSA, a fraud prevention and security company, said when releasing the survey results.
Oh, and when a company gets hacked?
Consumers blame the company, not the hacker, the report says.
The challenging thing about the report, of course, is that if so many people feel so strongly about their privacy, their data, and its use in the personalization of ads, social feeds, and news results ... why do they continue to use services that do precisely that?
From a European perspective, the answer might be that they actually lack choice.
That's exactly what the president of Germany's antitrust regulatory body said about Facebook earlier this week, arguing that if the only choice is between using a dominant social network by surrendering data or not being able to use the social network at all, that's not a real choice.
"In such a difficult situation the user’s choice cannot be referred to as voluntary consent,” said Germany’s Federal Cartel Office president Andreas Mundt.
Whether or not that's true, Europeans certainly are more cautious with their data than Americans.
"In the months of the GDPR being implemented, German attitudes shifted in favor of stricter data privacy expectations, with 42 percent wanting to protect location data in 2018 versus only 29 percent in 2017," says RSA.
In the U.S., 60% of adults agree that there are ethical ways companies can use their personal information. In Germany, only 43% agreed. Other European nations are fairly similar to Germany, with the equivalent number being 48% in the U.K. and 45% in France.
Of course, personalization is not the only way to tailor ads to people.
While personalized ads use data about people to determine which ads to show in an app or on a website, contextualized ads use data about the content in which they are embedded to infer insights about audience likes and interests. Some industry experts, including the "Ad Contrarian," believe that personalized ads are actually not more effective. It may well be that today's digital giants will have to return to some level of contextualization in lieu of personalization.
Wherever that debate goes, all this shift in consumer perceptions adds up to a new standard of doing business in the digital era, RSA says:
"Companies must acknowledge and protect consumers’ right to privacy while considering the impact of emerging technology," the report reads. "By so doing, they can forge deeper connections with customers to grow their business while addressing very real concerns about data protection and privacy."