KPMG report suggests consumer privacy concerns easing

July 23, 2010 by Dave Haynes

The monster professional services firm KPMG released a pile of research this week on privacy and digital security, with the common thread being an indication that consumers are, depending on how you come at this, relaxing about the implications, or just letting their collective guard down.

KPMG in its latest installment of “Consumers and Convergence” concludes that the use of mobile technology has apparently made U.S. consumers more comfortable with safeguards and less concerned about privacy and security on their wireless devices and networks.

KPMG found that 48 percent of consumers were very concerned about privacy when using a mobile device, Digiday reports, which was down from 58 percent in 2008. Similar results were found when addressing general digital technology as 54 percent of consumers said they were very concerned about security in this year’s survey, compared to 65 percent in 2008. The U.S. findings on this question were lower than the global findings in the survey that consisted of more than 5,000 consumers in 22 countries.

“The evolving U.S. consumers’ sentiment about privacy and security speaks to their greater familiarity and understanding of the convergence of computers, mobile devices and content, and how they can use the technology and services to their benefit,” said Gary Matuszak, Global Chair, Information, Communications and Entertainment.

“Anywhere you turn, you can see examples of this, whether it’s a person checking their email, texting, buying movie tickets, watching a video, listening to music, updating their Facebook status, or checking their bank account balance on their mobile phone.”

The KPMG survey also found a significant change in the attitude of U.S. Consumers toward personally identifiable information. In the latest survey, about half of the consumers said they would be willing to allow their (mobile or desk top) online usage and personal profile information to be tracked, if this would result in lower costs. This compares to one-third who were willing in 2008.

The U.S. consumers’ willingness to negotiate the use of their personal information appears to translate to a willingness to accept advertising when accessing online content/services in return for lower prices or free content and services, though there is a clear distinction between advertising on a personal computer and on a mobile device. About half of the U.S. consumers surveyed (five percent less than globally) would accept advertisements on their PCs, but only 28 percent in the U.S. (42 percent globally) would accept them on their mobile devices.

This attitude even extends to medical records. KPMG asked consumers how comfortable they will feel accessing personal medical information on mobile devices in the next 3 to 5 years. About one-fourth of U.S. consumers surveyed said they would be comfortable, while nearly four in 10 would not. Globally, the responses were the opposite with about 40 percent comfortable, and about one-quarter not.

The periodic burp of stories about digital posters that use cameras to tailor ads to viewer profiles – the ones that habitually reference that dystopic Tom Cruise movie – always suggest this sort of thing is creepy and just terribly invasive. But they also tend to equate the pedestrian stuff being done now with stuff set in the year 2054. Though it’s not even close.

The KPMG research interestingly suggests – repeat suggests – that consumers are willing to trade a little privacy and get targeted advertising if they see the benefit, as in being made aware of a special offer. I understand the base privacy concerns about audience technology, and the need for watchdogs on its usage, but I continue to struggle with how people are creeped out by technology that might see me walking along and use the technology to pitch an ad for a new Norah Jones CD release instead of one by Ke$ha or Miley Cyrus.

That’s not creepy. That’s just more effective marketing.

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