In recent years, much has been made of the privacy paradox: the idea that, while people say they value their privacy, their online behaviors show they are more willing to give away personal information than they’d like to think. Tech giants like Facebook and Google have faced a number of highly public privacy standards, yet millions upon millions of users continue to use these services every day. However, what happens when we think of the value of privacy not in terms of how much we want to protect our privacy, but instead in terms of much we are willing to spend to keep our data private. Newly published research does just that and found that, when looking at the dollar value people place on privacy, there might not be as much as a paradox as we suspected, and business can even learn to leverage the market value of privacy to better understand what they should (and shouldn’t) collect from consumers.
The new study, conducted by assistant professor at the London School of Economic Huan Tang, analyzed how much personal information users in China were willing to disclose in exchange for consumer loans. Official credit scores do not exist in China, so consumers typically have to give over a significant amount of personal information in order for banks to assess their credit. By looking at the decisions of 320,000 users on a popular Chinese lending platform, Tang was able to compare user’s willingness to disclose certain pieces of sensitive information against the cost of borrowing.
The results? Tang found that users were willing to disclosure sensitive information in exchange for an average of $33 reduction in loan fees. While for many in the U.S., $33 may not seem all that significant, $33 actually represents 70% of the daily salary in China, showing users place a significantly high value on their privacy. What’s more, on the bank’s side this translates to 10% decrease in revenue when they require users to disclosure additional personal information.
There are a number of important implications of these study for businesses. For one, it suggests, as Tang says, “that maybe there is no ‘privacy paradox’ after all,” meaning consumers’ online behaviors do, in fact, seem to show a value on protecting people’s right to privacy. While today businesses often utilize the data they collect to make money, by collecting everything and anything they can get their hands on, businesses may be losing significant revenue in lost business. According to Tang, collecting more information than necessary turns out to be inefficient. Instead, business can leverage the monetary value users place on their data to be more discerning when deciding what information to collect. If a piece of data is highly valued by consumers and has little direct economic benefits for a company, it may not be worth collecting. Of course, limiting data is a key tenet of Privacy by Design principles, which organization should be applying to our their practices in order to improve their privacy posture vis-a-vis GDPR and other privacy regulations. Limiting data also improves the organization’s cybersecurity posture because it reduces its exposure.
While it may seem counter intuitive in today’s standard practice of collecting as much data as possible, this study shows that limiting the data that is collected can be, according to Tang, a “win-win” for businesses and consumers alike.