As someone that watches with great interest as the great privacy debate unfolds, this article really caught my attention.  The issue in question is the trade-off between online privacy and discounts or special offers.  According to  a study by KPMG (Consumers and Convergence V: The Converged Lifestyle survey) a majority of US shoppers would offer up their online activity history in exchange for discounts on goods or even digital content.  Further, 43% of those surveyed would be willing to receive advertising, if they didn’t have to offer up personal details, in exchange for lower fees.

This is an interesting juxtaposition to the privacy hearings that have been occupying the US Congress of late.  Legislators have been greatly concerned with things like smartphone tracking and browsing histories.  It’s interesting to note that the issue may not be that consumers are upset about these activities on the part of merchants, but that they are not currently getting anything out of the bargain.  It is true that organizations should not be tracking consumer behavior, at least individual consumer behavior, without the consent of said individual, but there are benefits to sharing browsing history  and shopping behavior and consumers are recognizing those.  The question becomes, how can one  leverage the consumers’ self-interest to help the merchant?

It is important not to lose sight of the fact that consumer notification, awareness and choice remain priorities.  Tracking consumers without letting them know and providing them with the ability to opt out is a major faux-pas.  However, providing them some quid-pro-quo seems to ease many consumer qualms. What would be interesting to know though, is the consumer “break-even point.”  In other words, what sort of discount or service is the minimum for sharing their online behaviors?  That is not included in the KPMG survey, and is likely much more difficult to ferret out.

In today’s world, the balance between marketing research and a breach of consumer privacy can be difficult to measure.  For organizations that have questions about managing consumer privacy, there are a number of resources that can be referenced. Included is a short, certainly not exhaustive, list of privacy guidelines.

1) OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data

2) Federal Trade Commission Fair Information Practice Principles

3) Generally Accepted Privacy Principles

4) Privacy by Design

Dr. Heather Mark, PhD; SVP of Market Strategy