Consumer Concern about Smart Tech

A study by Pew Research has found that Americans are less than enthusiastic about giving away their personal information to companies, either in return for a reward or through a “smart” appliance or technology.

While consumers seemed generally more willing to trade information for safety, security, or health, they were less so when information-sharing involved advertising or spending habits. For example, 54% of respondents thought it would be acceptable for a company to install surveillance cameras in offices to deter theft, whereas 24% believed it wouldn’t be acceptable and 21% said “it depends.”

The last concern was conditional on factors such as where cameras would be pointed, how long footage would be kept and who would have access to it, and whether companies could abuse this and use the cameras for monitoring performance instead of honesty.

The “conditional,” factors showed strong common concerns across the questions researchers asked. While a majority of people (52%) supported sharing health information on a website used by their doctor’s office, the 20% who had reservations were largely concerned about the privacy of their medical records. On the subject of auto insurance companies installing a device which tracks driver speed and location, respondents were skeptical about who would be able to see the location information.

The auto insurance scenario was generally regarded as unfavorable, with 37% who would agree with giving that information away. The “it depends” group was at 16%, where those who deemed it an invasion of privacy comprised 45% of respondents.

Even more unpopular than collection of driver data was a social media network that gives free access in exchange for personal information to create targeted ads (not unlike Facebook), reaction to this was 33% acceptable and 51% unacceptable. The technology perceived as the “most invasive” was a smart thermostat that would tailor heating and cooling to the areas of the house residents spend the most time in. Only 27% would be comfortable with this, 55% would not, and 17% said, “it depends.”

One respondent who would not be comfortable with such an arrangement said, “My house…is my castle, and nobody needs to know how long I or any member of my family takes a shower or makes a meal.” Other words that were used in response to this idea were “creepy,” and “voyeuristic.”

These findings are not comprehensive, as the sample size was 461 adults surveyed as well as nine online focus groups of 80 people; in addition, it is reasonable to assume that the most strictly privacy-concerned would not wish to share their opinions. The general sentiments expressed are still very valuable, however. Businesses marketing these ideas and products going forward will need to be very cognizant of the suspicion people have of where this data is kept, who has access to it, and what the applications truly are. Consumers are not comfortable with invasions into what they regard as their private spaces, such as their cars and homes. They are also suspicious of companies which say they will use data for one application, then use it for another; businesses which sell data or otherwise use it for profit is a concern as well.

The most important strategy for businesses to use will be to understand these concerns and not dismiss them outright. Companies must offer consumers a reasonable benefit for offering information, and maintain transparency as for what data is used for, who can see it, and how secure it is. This will help allay consumer concerns.

Read Pew Research Center’s study here.

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