This article originally appeared in The Jakarta Post.
With more companies offering up customers' personal data for sale, governments are moving to intervene more deeply. In the US, for example, the Obama administration has proposed a wide-ranging bill intended to provide Americans with more control over the information that companies collect about them. In Europe, proposed data protection rules are being rewritten to reflect individual nations' agendas.
There's a real danger that multiple country rules might undermine the internet's openness. They might also limit user access and create expensive duplicate infrastructures. So companies must get ahead of the threat.
Yet many companies still miss the point: in a digital age, this is all about earning their customers' trust. The thoughtless click of the "agree" box isn't an agreement in any meaningful sense. It may protect companies from legal harm; reputational harm is another matter. Users may not have read the agreements, but many know acceptable behavior.
The attitudes and preferences expressed in our recent survey of more than 900 US consumers underscore the trust issue. Most survey respondents know their data is being used in one way or another and that it has become a currency.
When users buy goods through online retailers from Amazon to Zappos, they also surrender their data. Sense Networks tracks people's movements around town through their smartphone GPS breadcrumbs, in order to precisely tailor mobile advertisements.
When we asked people about their willingness to share their data and their desire for measures to protect it, we expected to see that demographic characteristics such as age, income and education would play a big role in their responses.
We also expected more active or sophisticated online users to have different attitudes than laggards. But in fact, the survey showed little variation in attitudes due to demographics or online sophistication.
Rasmus Wegener and Nader Elkhweet are partners with Bain & Company based, respectively, in Atlanta and Jakarta.