A large portion of Americans appear to be willing to share their personal information in exchange for a product or service, but some offers are more attractive than others.
That is the takeaway from a new Pew Research Center report based on a survey of 461 U.S. adults and 80 participants in nine focus groups on attitudes toward what Pew billed as the "key tradeoff" of the digital economy.
Pew offered up six hypothetical tradeoffs involving sharing varying degrees of personal data and asked whether that tradeoff was acceptable.
The largest percentage (54%) said they were OK with facial recognition cameras in the workplace to catch thieves of employees' personal belongings, with the footage staying on file as long as the company wished, and even if it were used to measure employee attendance and performance. Only 24% said that would not be acceptable, with 21% saying it would depend on circumstances. There were no statistically significant differences in answers by age or gender or income.
Far fewer would trade personal data for receiving targeted advertising in the scenario presented by Pew. That scenario was free access to a social media platform that allowed for interaction with other alumni for an upcoming reunion in exchange for creating a profile and supplying a photo that would be used by the site to deliver tailored advertising.
Only 33% said that tradeoff would be acceptable, while 51% said it was not and 15% said it depended on the circumstances.
The generational breakdown is telling. Four of 10 under 50 said they were OK with that, but only 24% of those over 50 said it was acceptable.
“Many policy makers and companies are anxious to know where Americans drawn the line on privacy – when they will resist privacy intrusions and when they are comfortable with sharing personal data,” said Lee Rainie, director of Internet, science, and technology research at Pew and author of the report. “These findings show how people’s decisions are often context-specific and contingent. A phrase that summarizes their attitudes is, ‘It depends.’ Most are likely to consider options on a case-by-case basis, rather than apply hard-and-fast privacy rules.”