Are we now a nation of “data pragmatists”?

Do people even care about data privacy anymore?

You’d think that with the continuing cascade of news about the exposure of personal information, people would be more skittish than ever about sharing their data.

But this isn’t the case … and we have a 2018 study from marketing data foundation firm Acxiom to prove it. The report, titled Data Privacy: What the Consumer Really Thinks, is the result of survey information gathered in late 2017 by Acxiom in conjunction with the Data & Marketing Association (formerly the Direct Marketing Association).

The research, which presents results from an online survey of nearly 2,100 Americans age 18 and older, found that nearly 45% of the respondents feel more comfortable with data exchange today than they have in the past.

Among millennial respondents, well over half feel more comfortable about data exchange today.

Indeed, the report concludes that most Americans are “data pragmatists”:  people who are open about exchanging personal data with businesses if the benefits received in return for their personal information are clearly stated.

Nearly 60% of Americans fall into this category.

On top of that, another 20% of the survey respondents report that they’re completely unconcerned about the collection and usage of their personal data. Among younger consumers, it’s nearly one-third.

When comparing Americans’ attitudes to consumers in other countries, we seem to be a particularly carefree bunch. Our counterparts in France and Spain are much more wary of sharing their personal information.

Part of the difference in views may be related to feelings that Americans have about who is responsible for data security. In the United States, the largest portion of people (~43%) believe that 100% of the responsibility for data security lies with consumers themselves, versus only ~6% who believe that the responsibility resides solely with brands or the government.  (The balance of people think that the responsibility is shared between all parties.)

To me, the bottom-line finding from the Acxiom/DMA study is that people have become so conditioned to receiving the benefits that come from data exchange, they’re pretty inured to the potential downsides.  Probably, many can’t even fathom going back to the days of true data privacy.

Of course, no one wishes for their personal data to be used for nefarious purposes, but who is willing to forego the benefits (be it monetary, convenience or comfort) that come from companies and brands knowing their personal information and their personal preferences?

And how forgiving would these people be if their personal data were actually compromised? From Target to Macy’s, quite a few Americans have already had a taste of this, but what is it going to take for such “data pragmatism” to seem not so practical after all?

I’m thinking, a lot.

For more findings from the Axciom research, click or tap here.

Tower of Babble: Four billion e-mail addresses and counting.

Billions of e-mail addressesDavid Baker, a global vice president at marketing technologies firm Acxiom and e-mail expert extraordinaire, wrote recently that when speaking with an employee at one of the major online database aggregators, he was informed that this company had a grand total of 4 billion e-mail addresses on file.

And of these, ~2 billion had names and addresses associated with them.

These numbers are dramatically higher than the worldwide estimate of e-mail addresses published by the Pingdom blog in its Internet 2011 in Numbers report.

Think about this for a moment. Considering that the total population of the United States is a little over 310 million, how many e-mail addresses per person are floating around out there?

Strip away the very young … plus teens and ‘tweens who don’t engage nearly so much in e-mail … and we’re left with the realization that among the core adult audience of Boomers and GenXers, there’s really no such thing as a single e-mail address that can be tied to one individual.

Even if we ourselves don’t maintain multiple e-mail accounts for different purposes, surely we know people who do. One person I know is juggling no fewer than 20 separate e-mail addresses; he claims to be keeping them all straight.

This notion of multiplicity is at cross-purposes with how marketers have traditionally viewed prospecting. We’ve been conditioned to think about an individual as being tied to one physical address and one e-mail address – in the same manner as a discrete mobile phone number or a unique social security number.

In theory, all of these are vehicles of monetization, with e-mail being particularly attractive because of the low cost associated with reaching prospects in that manner.

But in actuality, there’s a great deal of complexity:

  • Which e-mails are associated with opt-in permission?
  • Which e-mail addresses are primary (highly active) versus secondary (relatively inactive)?
  • Which e-mails are valid, but lying dormant?

Because e-mail addresses are “cheap/free,” they’re ephemeral. They aren’t “linear” in the same sense as the data on a residence, a business address or even a mobile phone number can deliver.

Mr. Baker concludes that, far from becoming easier, “the ability to engage a customer through e-mail across a portfolio of communications is becoming more costly and complex.”

With 4 billion e-mail addresses sloshing around in the digital space, there’s no doubt e-mail marketing will continue to be a major force in marketing. Even if half of them are cyber-zombies, digital Potemkin villages or what-have-you.

The challenge is in sorting it all out.

I think the e-mail specialists are going to be at this for a good long time to come.