Americans Uneasy with Giving up Privacy but Resigned to It

A team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have published a report titled “The Tradeoff Fallacy – How Marketers Are Misrepresenting American Consumer Consumers and Opening Them to Exploitation.” Surveying a total of 1,506 American adults, the researchers brushed off marketers’ claims that U.S. consumers are perfectly fine with giving away their personal information, data and privacy as long as they are getting rewarded for it by means of discounts for products and free services.

In “the Tradeoff Fallacy”, researchers said, “By misrepresenting the American people and championing the tradeoff argument, marketers give policymakers false justifications for allowing the collection and use of all kinds of consumer data often in ways that the public find objectionable.”

The resignation in giving up privacy

The paper goes on to say that while a majority of Americans are fundamentally opposed to having their data and online habits tracked and collected, they’re “resigned to giving up their data—and that is why many appear to be engaging in tradeoffs. Resignation occurs when a person believes an undesirable outcome is inevitable and feels powerless to stop it. Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them.”

In putting up an example, the report noted that:

  • Consumers posed with the statement “If companies give me a discount, it is a fair exchange for them to collect information about me without my knowing”, had an overwhelming 91 percent of the respondents vehemently disagreeing with it.
  • In response to “It’s fair for an online or physical store to monitor what I’m doing online when I’m there, in exchange for letting me use the store’s wireless internet, or Wi-Fi, without charge”, a still startling 71 percent disagreed.
  • When asked if they’d allow supermarkets to collect data in return for a direct discount on their shopping, nearly half of the respondents were okay with the idea, at 43 percent.

While the last point represents a contradiction in the general deduction from the research, the report points to a simple reason behind the anomaly. The research study notes that “tradeoff behavior in the digital world needs a new explanation.” They add that a big portion of Americans are resigned and helpless in the “inevitability of surveillance and the power of marketers to harvest their data.”

The sentiment is clear to see. In a common opinion that brings together nearly three-quarters of the respondents, 71 percent strongly disagreed with the statement “what companies know about me from my behavior online cannot hurt me.”