Two interesting online privacy-related surveys were published earlier this week. One was conducted in Europe by data management company TRUSTe and the other in Canada by the Canadian Advertising Standards industry regulator. Although the two surveys covered slightly different topics, the way they were reported in the press suggested that Europeans are more concerned about online privacy and tracking than Canadians. But is that really the case?
Lets start with the TRUSTe survey conducted by Ipsos MORI in France, Germany, UK and Netherlands. According to TRUSTe, EU companies are heavily tracking online behaviour and, despite a relatively high awareness amongst EU consumers of this activity, only a minority of companies seek consent before dropping cookies into browsers. French companies were apparently the worst offenders with on average nine 3rd party cookies per homepage, followed by Great Britain with eight, Germany with six and Netherlands with five.
The report also found that 71% of French respondents were very concerned about their privacy online compared with 69% in Great Britain, 62% in Germany and 48% in the Netherlands. 79% of Dutch respondents were aware that the EU Cookie Directive law requires companies to get permission to track you online, compared with 63% in Great Britain, 51% in Germany and 26% in France. 53% of French respondents expect companies to comply, yet 44% plan to only visit websites of companies who comply with the EU Cookie Directive.
Canadians willing to trade personal data
But Canada’s ad industry survey appears to paint a much rosier picture of the relationship between online advertisers and internet users. The poll, compiled by research firm McCann Truth Central, found that 73% of Canadians were aware of online ad tracking, but a majority (53%) said they were willing to share personal data, including location data, to obtain a benefit. Furthermore, 79% of Canadians are happy to share their shopping data, which includes the websites they shop on and the items they buy. However, 56% of Canadians say one of the most important things is that a company does not pass information on to any third parties without specifying that it intends to do so. 48% want to know exactly how their data is going to be used.
Here’s what the author of the Canadian report, Laura Simpson, concludes: “Canadians are well aware of the various ways they trade data with brands and businesses, and even how this data is used. Consumers are increasingly willing to trade privacy for clear benefits and become what we call the ‘savvy shopper’.”
Contrast this with a quote from TRUSTe’s survey by managing director Danilo Labovic: ““This research shows that there is a significant gap between consumer expectations and the experience provided by most companies…. they have high levels of privacy concerns and across all four countries, an average of 83%* thought that companies should get their permission before tracking them online.”
Real difference or just spin?
Now, if you ask me, there’s not that much difference between the TRUSTe survey’s findings and the Advertising Standards Canada findings. Both Canadians and Europeans are aware of ad tracking and they want to know how they’re data is being used, but if transparency is in place then they don’t mind companies using the data.
But take a cursory look at the headlines generated from both surveys. On the one hand you’ve got the Calgary Herald saying “Canadians not worried about targeted ads” and the other you’ve got TRUSTe putting out press releases titled “EU Companies out of step with consumer concerns”. Why is this? Well, Canada’s Advertising Standards is not an independent regulator, therefore it has a vested interest in suggesting Canadians don’t care about online ads, whereas TRUSTe – as you may already know – is in the business of data privacy. So you’ve got two very similar sets of results coming out in the same week, but being spun by public relation departments in two different ways. When in actual fact, both Canadians and Europeans seem pretty uniform in their attitude to online tracking and targeted ads.