Are consumers really bewildered and fearful of data?

New CIM research reported by the BBC this morning reveals that nine in 10 people have no idea what companies do with their personal information. It also found 57% did not trust the companies to handle their data responsibly and that over half (51 per cent) had been contacted by organisations that had misused their data.

The body believes that personal data policies should be clearer and simpler and is calling for immediate action from UK companies. Currently only 16 per cent of people read the Ts and Cs in a bid to understand what happens to their personal details.

The research also revealed a mismatch between public feeling and commercial ambition. For instance, 71% of consumers did not feel comfortable with businesses tracking their whereabouts through their smartphones. Yet, 20% of businesses are already collecting this geo-location data. Most people do not like sharing data from their social media profiles. Yet, 44% of businesses are collecting it.

It is unlikely that many marketers will be surprised by the fact 90 per cent claim not to know what is happening to their information. It has long been known that many consumers don’t fully understand the implications of handing over their personal data for marketing purposes, but what is perhaps a little surprising and concerning is the lack of trust that exists. 

It is unfair to think that organisations either don’t care or are burying their heads in the sand over these issues. With initiatives such as the ICO’s Guide to Direct Marketing, the DMA’s Direct Marketing Code, the Cookie Law, and upcoming changes to legislation including the Digital Economy Bill and GDPR organisations have never been so open as to what they will do with their customers’ data. Marketers are not  hoodwinking consumers into parting with their data, which might have been the case two decades ago when internet marketing really came to the fore, but are now openly forming collaborative partnerships grounded in the value exchange.

Consumers have a right to expect that their data is well looked after and this includes stringent data hygiene regimes that ensures the data is clean and up to date reducing unwanted and wasted marketing collateral being sent out.  And organisations have the responsibility to ensure that this is the case. Our research shows that understanding of the benefits of suppression are at an all-time high and in fact take up of files including Mortascreen and SmartDepart  continue to rise. This seems at odds with the findings of the CIM’s report. With the latest efforts being made by direct marketers to improve targeting and build honest relationships with consumers we would certainly expect the lack of trust percentage to decrease over the coming months.