Online Privacy: Opting Out is Not an Option

March 2, 2018  | By Jenna Jordan

Sharing personal information often feels like today’s digital currency. By opting in and giving away details like an email or birthday, shoppers can receive a discount on a retailer’s website. The ability to tick a box leads shoppers to believe that they have a say if information can be gathered about them, but anyone with a mobile phone or internet connection really doesn’t have a choice. Information is being gathered, whether you opt in or not.

Thinking about online privacy can be overwhelming. It makes you wonder if there is even such a thing as privacy in today’s “information overload” age. Personally, I sympathize with Ron Swanson from the TV show Parks and Recreation in this clip. Despite how much we may know (or think we know) about online privacy, there are many different aspects. Where does online privacy fit in with retailers? Is gathering data worth it when 75% of consumers find marketing personalization creepy?

Essentially, retailers gather information to build a better view of their shoppers and improve the customer experience. If they can see the ways consumers engage with their stores and websites, they can better serve them. For example, loyalty programs often fill in data gaps, and downloading a retailer’s app can track a user’s location. For retailers, the more data the better. However, Forbes revealed that half of the data retailers collect is irrelevant simply because they don’t know what to do with it.

Retailers generally don’t have bad intentions with how they use consumer data, and likewise, many people aren’t bothered about information being gathered about them. It becomes an issue when companies are not transparent about when and how they are collecting information. Shoppers will be more likely to share information if they know what data is being collected, and that it’s used to help them be better served as a customer. As always, trust is the one thing that remains of utmost importance, in any industry.

Expectations of privacy are often associated with age. So who has more trust in online privacy? Gallup research found that only 44% of millennials believe their personal information is kept private with the companies they interact with. Every other generation is even more skeptical.

While overall faith in online privacy is low, it’s important to remember that retailers using cookies aren’t the bad guys. However, data security and the threat of hackers stealing information for illegal purposes is a real cause for concern. Just last year, an internet privacy law was overturned, and internet service providers can now sell browsing history to advertisers. So while people might believe they can stop seeing retargeted ads by “opting out” of having websites gather information about them, the truth is we have all opted in as soon as we signed on.