Why customers share data online

Customer concerns about sharing data

Using data to target customers is shaping the brand and customer relationship.  Neuroscientist and psychologist, Dr Erman Misirlisoy looks at why people share data despite their privacy concerns.

Most customers have concerns around how data is harvested with 75% in our New Masters survey expressing concerns about how their data is used. Yet despite privacy concerns, customers across the world continue to open up their data to online companies. Why?

What customers want

One obvious incentive is that businesses provide great services that we want. Companies like Google reduce the effort or ‘friction’ in our lives by giving us important information within a few keystrokes. Targeted adverts show us the best products to fit our personal profiles with no keystrokes at all; they simply appear as a byproduct of something else we happen to be doing online. We no longer need to spend painful time and effort on browsing, searching, and comparing hundreds of options.

Even the most basic policies that reduce effort can have powerful effects on our behaviour. When we agree to provide our personal data, companies bring our wants and needs to our doorstep. These kinds of advantages can outweigh the costs of compromising on data privacy. We only need to stop worrying about data for a few seconds, enough time for a single click. That’s all it takes to accept the terms and conditions for major services that improve our lives.

Join the crowd

Once we begin using an online service, it’s hard to stop. The benefits become embedded within our lives, so there is too much to lose from cutting off access to our data. When we have a large network of friends and followers, and a convenient way to interact with them, deleting a social account feels almost like isolating ourselves. The sense of commitment, and the feelings of trust that companies craft into their images and messaging, are pivotal in the decisions we make every day.

Social pressures

We use social norms as a guide to our behaviour. When we learn about what others are doing, we incline toward doing the same ourselves. Some social pressures may help us justify relinquishing personal data, especially when it comes to online social networks. We generally like to join in with our friends’ activities and avoid missing out. This can alleviate our concerns about data privacy: it’s easy to think “if my friends are willing to do it, it’s probably fine”. Social pressures also explain why we share so much private information. Social media channels like Facebook encourage us to share experiences and seek social approval. Often, the most personal and emotional experiences – marriages, breakups, travels, and political opinions – attract the most attention from our connections. The resulting psychological rewards then reinforce a loop of continued sharing.