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How UK and US consumers view data privacy

How do people's data privacy opinions differ across borders? In The Person Behind the Data consumer research study, we compared U.S. vs. U.K. perspectives.
Read time
6 min read
November 2, 2022
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Americans and Brits have plenty in common — but when it comes to data privacy, there are some important differences that businesses need to take into consideration.

That’s one of the key takeaways from the MAGNA Global Media Trial commissioned by Ketch. In “The Person Behind the Data” research study, MAGNA surveyed 5,000+ people across the United States and United Kingdom. By comparing the U.S. and U.K. study results, we get a new perspective on the similarities and differences that mark consumer approaches to data privacy on both sides of the Atlantic. Here are some of the key findings:

  1. Consumers care about data privacy, more than most companies realize. 

Data privacy is a top priority for both Americans and Brits, with three-quarters of U.S. consumers and over two-thirds of U.K. consumers saying they highly value their data privacy. Americans were slightly more likely than Brits to worry about how their data is being used, while U.K. residents were more likely than Americans to feel like they don’t have enough control of their data. Three-quarters of Brits said they lacked full control, versus just under two-thirds of Americans.

  1. Despite concerns about how companies use data, everyone sees the value in sharing their data. 

More than four out of five consumers on both sides of the Atlantic say they perceive real benefits to sharing their data with companies. Americans had clearer views about what those benefits were, however, and were also willing to share more kinds of data — such as location, search history, and social-media habits — in order to obtain specific benefits such as personalized online experiences, freebies, and product discounts.

  1. Consumers buy more (seriously!) from companies that handle data responsibly. 

For businesses on both sides of the pond, responsible data practices are now a key driver of both customer loyalty and bottom-line revenues. Among American shoppers, purchase intent increased by 23% when dealing with companies that had responsible data practices. Brits were even more likely to reward ethical data practices: their purchase intent jumped by 28% when dealing with responsible businesses. 

  1. When it comes to responsible data practices, Brits prize transparency. But Americans care about retention. 

While both British and American consumers care about data privacy, their top priorities vary significantly. Almost six out of 10 British shoppers said that transparency was the biggest driver of purchasing intent, compared to less than one-fifth of American shoppers. For U.S. consumers, data retention was the biggest driver, with 52% of shoppers saying it impacted purchasing intent, compared to just 13% of Brits.

Clearly, both Americans and Brits care deeply about their data. But why should British consumers care chiefly about transparency, while Americans prioritize data retention?

Purchase intent indicators: transparency vs. retention

First, it’s important to acknowledge that both retention and transparency do matter to users on both sides of the Atlantic. Both U.S. and U.K. consumers named data retention as the biggest driver of brand trust, for instance, and were also similarly likely to point to transparency and data retention as key factors determining their brand preferences. 

But when it came to the leading indicator of revenue - purchase intent - Brits named transparency as most important, where Americans named data retention as their highest concern. What should brands make of this? 

One factor leading British consumers to value transparency is simply that modern privacy rules have been part of the British and European consumer experience for longer than in the United States. We already know that regulatory activity drives awareness of privacy issues; in the wake of the GDPR, British consumers have had a crash-course in data privacy in recent years. It’s left them with a clearer understanding of how much businesses can (and should) be transparent about, if they so choose.

Notably: industry analysts point out that transparency has long been a key concern for British consumers, setting them apart not just from Americans but also from other Europeans. Privacy preferences, in other words, are determined not just by local regulatory rulebooks, but also by cultural factors — such as the British belief in the importance of “fair play.” This shapes how consumers in different regions think about their data and view companies’ data practices. 

In contrast, let’s look at the United States: despite a shorter history of data regulation, citizens have experienced extensive media coverage of data breaches. With this exposure, U.S. consumers have a clear sense of what’s at stake when they hand their data over to a business. But U.S. consumers — again, perhaps for cultural reasons — understand the concept of giving something to get something: they’re happy to share their data if they’re getting something of value in return.

That, perhaps, explains why U.S. consumers pay close attention to how long their data is being held: they perceive the enduring value in their data, and see data-sharing as a temporary loan rather than a gift in perpetuity. Once the benefits end, they believe, so should data storage — because otherwise, they’re getting the short end of the deal. There’s little Americans hate more than that. 😉

What this means for brands and businesses

What we’re seeing here, in other words, isn’t as simple as “Brits care about transparency” and “Americans care about data retention.” Instead, we’re getting a window into the richer and more nuanced ways that different consumers think about data, and how that changes based on location, culture, context, and many other factors. 

That’s a big deal, because it means that as businesses strive to cope with a proliferating global patchwork of privacy regulations, they can’t afford to focus solely on regulatory compliance. Compliance still matters enormously, of course. But to win consumers’ trust, it will also be necessary to tailor both privacy policies and consumer-facing messaging to consumers’ varying cultural needs and expectations — across national boundaries, but perhaps also across different demographics within a given region.

The Person Behind the Data shows that brands that get this right have an opportunity to capture significant bottom-line benefits. Consumers around the world are increasingly engaged with issues of data privacy, and they’re voting with their feet by supporting brands that align with their values. But consumers aren’t monolithic, and privacy practices that resonate strongly with American consumers may not have the same impact on users in Britain — or those in Europe, Australia, Asia, and elsewhere. 

Companies that want to maximize revenues and customer loyalty will need robust compliance programs capable of scaling to meet the regulatory requirements of all the geographies and jurisdictions in which they operate. But culture and consumer preferences are also key factors to consider. Brands looking for best results need robust compliance, but also data infrastructure capable of flexibly adapting to and meeting the varying needs and expectations of their diverse global customer base. 

Trust isn’t simply a box to be checked off — it’s a process of dynamically and continuously aligning your product and your data processes to the varying and shifting values of your customers. Companies that make that commitment, and give their users real agency over the ways in which their data is collected and used, will be best placed to succeed — in the U.K., the U.S., and everywhere else in the world.

Read time
6 min read
November 2, 2022
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