Privacy Surveys: It Matters How You Ask the Question

PrivacyThe Place Conference is today in NYC. As part of my opening slides I’m presenting survey data about consumer attitudes toward indoor location and privacy.

There are now many dozens of surveys about consumer privacy, online advertising and data collection in the market. In the case of indoor location in particular those surveys often contradict each other — or reveal in the aggregate a complex picture of consumer privacy attitudes.

The data show that if consumers see concrete benefits and are given more specific information they’re more likely to share data (i.e., location) with retailers and marketers. However if they don’t understand how the data are being used or just asked to respond to the question of “tracking” in the abstract, they generally reject the notion.

As with all surveys it matters how you frame the question. Indeed, you can almost guarantee a particular outcome through the language and framing used. This is how survey data can be manipulated for marketing or other objectives.

Privacy survey 1

Privacy survey 1

Privacy survey 3

Each of the above questions features a different sample of 500 US Android users. Each question asks about tracking or data collection but adds more specifics each time. The third question offers very concrete benefits.

Look at what happens between “tracking” as an abstract notion and “rewards, discounts and better customer service.” In the latter case two-thirds said yes. In the previous two answers, with fewer benefits and more uncertainty around “why,” consumers either rejected the notion or wanted more information.

This offers some specific lessons about communicating with consumers about privacy and indoor location in particular. But it also reflects how survey data can be easily manipulated to generate desired responses and outcomes.

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