Consumer Privacy Concerns and Your Marketing Strategy

Melanie Balke
April 10, 2024

It’s no secret that consumers are increasingly concerned about their online privacy. As more data flows into the digital world, everyone has more to “fear.”

The validity of those fears is irrelevant. A broken clock is right twice, and even the most outlandish concerns are often based in fact. Ultimately, the problem is not that people are worried about their personal data. The larger concern is the overwhelming negativity surrounding consumer views of data protection measures.

Unfortunately, too many marketing professionals are ignoring the facts. Immediate gains are overriding long-term sustainability, and consumer patience is wearing thin. Internet users worldwide are pushing for more — to expand the General Data Protection Regulation and CAN-SPAM Acts. They want to be properly protected, not fed legalese platitudes from business leaders.

Why Data Privacy Matters

A hazy office. "What to Know: Why Data Privacy Matters."

It may seem counterintuitive in today’s digital landscape, but pre-emptive data protection measures do give brands a competitive advantage.

There is, of course, the practical merit. Enacting aggressive data protection now saves you time later when Federal law is inevitably updated. You also reduce your brand’s privacy risks and liabilities.

Government agencies worldwide are cracking down on data brokers. Here, in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission is overflowing with requests to strengthen its legislation. Abroad, the European Union is considering more aggressive measures to counteract unscrupulous consumer information skimming. Even Australia is toying with increased protections for personal information.

However, those are too often seen as “long-term” concerns. Since they don’t impact the bottom line today, businesses ignore them. They continue to use invasive measures to increase targeting and reach. These practices may pay immediate dividends, but they erode the most important tool in any brand’s arsenal: consumer trust.

Digital Privacy and the Erosion of Consumer Trust

Assorted clocks. "Losing Trust: Understanding the Frustration."

You can certainly argue that it’s an individual’s duty to protect digital privacy, and many users agree with that sentiment. 87% of adults in the United States claim responsibility for their personal data, while a mere 64% believe brands should shoulder the burden. However, this is not vindication.

In fact, it reflects the deeper issue.

Even more United States consumers — 89%, to be exact — no longer trust brands to do the right thing. These consumers may be resigned to the present state of international privacy policies, but they’re far from silent. The International Association of Privacy Professions notes that those fears are only increasing as brands pour money into dubiously ethical “artificial intelligence” models.

Indifference Breeds Consequences

In many ways, marketers have created their own Goliath.

Despite record spending, data breaches are on the rise.

In the United States alone, there were 1,802 data breaches in 2022. That number has almost doubled in a year, with companies reporting 3,205 data breaches in 2023. Each of those breaches may seem inconsequential, but the impact is spread across millions of consumers. Indeed, those 1,800 data breaches in 2022 impacted 422 million users — more than the population of the United States!

At this point, the “control” argument is irrelevant.

Brands are responsible for adequate data protection measures. This sentiment extends beyond a moral plane; it’s legal. European Union legislation requires all companies to have adequate cybersecurity measures. Similarly, the less stringent CCPA laws hold companies financially responsible for all personal data losses.

The Source of the Breaches

California Consumer Privacy Act aside, much of that lost consumer data has a simple and easily avoidable root cause.

Companies are skimping on cloud-based data security.

Now, I’m not accusing anyone of willful negligence. Many brands are unfamiliar with the complexities of modern cloud-based computing technologies. They trust the providers — the big-name megacorporations — to handle data privacy.

Unfortunately, the centralization of consumer data is proving too much for even the behemoths of modern technologies. In 2023, 82% of consumer data breaches came from these centralized cloud systems.

Even more came from similarly monopolized vendor systems. Despite their convenience, many of these drag-and-drop solutions are only as strong as their weakest link. Tactless data collection at the bottom of the chain rolls to the top, and those data privacy violations become everyone’s problem.

The Most Worrisome Information Privacy Concerns

Overlapping envelopes. "Be Aware: The Biggest Consumer Concerns."

Summarily, businesses have lost digital trust.

The ongoing anti-consumer war has damaged everyone’s reputation, tainting even the most trusting customers’ views of e-commerce. Today, most data privacy fears revolve around distribution and use.

How Is Data Used?

Over two-thirds of Americans worry about how their personal data is used. That anxiety cannot be assuaged by legalese disclaimers and obligatory informational links. More importantly, it’s not an irrelevant or unfounded concern.

TikTok is the most prominent and relevant example of modern data protection failures. However, ethics and political beliefs aside, the app is far from the only indiscriminate data collection force. It simply faces more scrutiny.

Moreover, the rise of AI-powered technologies is fueling more anxiety than ever. Even the Federal Trade Commission has recognized widespread consumer concerns. As consumer privacy protection continues falling by the wayside, users’ data is being gobbled up by unscrupulous automation programs. What began as harmless diversions has become a palpable threat to the sanctity of all sensitive data.

Customers are particularly concerned about their data’s ability to leak into the wrong hands. While you may not use AI for identity theft, there is most certainly someone who does. They only need the correct access code to access the collected information of countless organizations’ marketing research.

The Proliferation of Unrestrained Data Access

I must also emphasize the scope of many data collection schemes.

Again, I am not accusing anyone of misusing sensitive data. However, there is no foolproof way to prevent all access. (Beyond, perhaps, writing everything in a book and locking said book in a safe!) I’m not questioning anyone’s motives. Medical companies do need health data to keep information relevant to target audiences. Similarly, many small businesses use location information to deliver useful advertisements to local residents.

Overlapping leaves. Text describes three expensive digital privacy lawsuits against, respectively, Facebook, Google, and L.A. Health.

The problem is not the act of collecting; it’s the lack of transparency.

Think of it this way: How likely are you to reach the full text of those privacy policies? (“Very unlikely,” right?) Now, knowing this, how can you possibly make informed choices when presented with the list of an app or business’ data collection categories? How can you possibly consent to those privacy policies without knowing the inherent risks?

Thus, we have a twofold problem.

First, companies are harvesting too much data. Does an ice cream shop really need you to create an account? Must it also have access to your location and interests? How about your family’s composition and dynamics?

Second, companies are failing to disclose the purpose of that data. Their policies may meet all relevant regulations, but that’s not comforting to know as you look at the data collected.

Data Handling and Data Digital Privacy Risks

Consumers worry, too, about how that information is handled.

42% of Americans worry about the transmission of their private data.

Again, this is not an unfounded anxiety. Two years ago, Time magazine published a report on location tracking. Aside from the ethical implications, the report noted the callous responses of many industry “leaders,” who proudly bragged about their ability to harvest and sell personal information.

Things haven’t improved. There’s no basis to increase customer trust.

In fact, businesses are harvesting more data than ever. More worryingly, those businesses are allowing unfettered access to said data, providing consumers little to no protection from malicious actors. That personal information is also tying brands to political turmoil, regardless of their official stances on the matter.

Privacy Investments Are a Global Problem

Overlapping leaves. "Avoid It: Stay On Top of Digital Privacy."

The loss of customer trust isn’t localized to the United States, either.

68% of the global population worries about online privacy — over 5.5 billion consumers. Customers have grown weary of dense, indecipherable legal disclaimers. They want transparency and honest disclosure statements. They’re reacting by self-regulating their online experiences. Consumer data analysis shows distrustful customers often avoid websites, withhold information, and spend less.

There’s no “easy” solution.

To regain trust, brands must collectively work to reduce data collection, protect existing data, and implement holistic privacy policies. There must be a widespread effort to invest in security and restraint over sweeping information access.

However, there is a simple way to avoid most of the incoming storms.

First-party data is a direct and consensual exchange of information. Yes, it takes longer to acquire. Companies must build personal relationships before harvesting that juicy data. However, it protects brands from the most invasive data harvesting accusations. Moreover, that implicit consent will keep your brand squeaky clean, away from multi-million-dollar lawsuits over unauthorized harvesting of personal information.

I also suggest investing in a professional partner to help you shape your email marketing. I may be biased, but The Email Marketers is my go-to team! My hand-picked professionals understand the importance of data protection. They know how to maintain the utmost security, balancing your users’ experiences and comfort levels.

Schedule a free strategy session today and see how a security-forward business can transform your marketing. Regain your audience’s trust and get ahead of upcoming security regulations!