Men More Reckless with Personal Information Online

February 22, 2012

There is still widespread naiveté about the value of personal information and the way data is aggregated according to a new survey by Usamp.

Men and women are quite willing to share personal information about relationships, education, employment, brand preferences and political and religious affiliations.

But when it comes to information like email or physical address, phone numbers, or their location, women put a higher premium on physical safety and are markedly more guarded than their male counterparts.

What users have to gain a better understanding of is the very clear risks all of this information sharing represents, and how, with the information women were willing to share, the rest of their information is fairly easily exposed.

Why all that information matters

When looking at the types of information both men and women were fairly willing to share, it is the unintended use of that information that place you at risk.

For example, it was through hard fought battles in the 20th century that we gained a number of civil rights designed to protect every citizen from discrimination based on gender, religion, race, color, national origin, age, marital or family status, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation, financial status, and more.

These prejudices remain, and by sharing this information freely online users enable the very types of discrimination that civil rights were established to prohibit. And users do it in a way that never places an employer or company at legal risk. A candidate will never know why they weren’t considered, they won’t even make it to the interview.

To understand how this works, Microsoft conducted research in January 2010, to expand the understanding around role of online information and reputation.

One aspect of the research looked specifically at how recruiters and HR professionals use online information in their candidate screening process.

As you can see in this table, would-be employers can now make decisions based on a number of factors long before ever inviting a candidate in for an interview process where some system of oversight could possibly identify discriminatory practices against selected candidates.

With this type of undetectable prescreening, employers can make decisions based on how people look in their photos – weight, age, skin color, health, prettiness factor, style, tattoos, and economic indicators. They can look at comments made by the candidate, friends or family members that they would never have had the right to access pre-internet. They can look at groups and organizations a person is associated with – and potentially make decisions based on political affiliations, faith, sexual preferences, even medical factors – if this information is indicated through the groups and organizations to which the candidate belongs.

Learn more about the erosion of civil rights in my blog Civil Rights Get Trampled in Internet Background Checks.

The damage doesn’t end there

It is not just would be employers or college application review boards who can and do use this information.  If 5 years ago someone posted a photo of you on a drinking binge, will it impact whether an auto insurance company accepts you, or quotes you a higher rate?  Will it impact your medical insurance rate? How about your ability to get a car, school, or home loan? The answer is likely to be YES.

A reluctance to share address, email, phone numbers and other ‘locatable’ information doesn’t matter if you’re willing to share your name, employer etc.

The study found that among the types of personal information shared, men and women are most likely to be happy to share their names (86% and 88%, respectively) and email addresses (55.2% and 42.4%, respectively). Yet unless you live off the grid, your name alone is probably enough to get your address and phone number – and sometimes your email address. It’s enough to discover if you own or rent, if you vote, have a criminal record, etc. Compounding your risks, the facial recognition tools now in Facebook and Google+, mean that even your face in a photo may be enough to collect all this information.

Does it mean you hop off the internet and hide? No. But it does mean that before sharing any information you should ask yourself who could see it? What could they do with it? Will it damage you, your child, or someone else in the future? If your information is already out there, you may want to work with websites to have any sensitive information removed.



Consumers Suspicious of Sharing Personal Data with Companies

October 20, 2011

A whopping 88% of U.S. and Canadian consumers say they believe companies are primarily collecting personal information for their own benefit, nearly that many (85%) are often concerned about how much of their information is being held by others, and 74% don’t believe they benefit from sharing information according to an October 2011 survey from LoyaltyOne.

And even though 52% of survey respondents said they believe their information is being used to provide better service, only 9% strongly agree that this is the case.

This represents a very healthy skepticism on the part of consumers and shows that between the spread of internet safety messaging, and being burned by companies, has shifted the perception of average citizens towards sharing information. According to the survey, nearly one in three (32%) consumers has been notified their personal information was stolen or compromised.

Expectations for benefits are low

The survey also found that less than half believe that sharing their personal information will give them benefits like receiving tailored offers, advanced information, communications targeting their interests, easier purchasing processes, and preferred treatment or product improvements.

Companies beware

It would seem that consumers are tiring of the constant request for personal information by companies. Nearly a quarter of surveyed users (23%) say they have chosen against making a purchase due to uncertainty over how a company would use their personal information, and this percentage jumps to 30% of respondents who have received notification of a data breach and to 37% among respondents who have actually been negatively affected by a data compromise.

What consumers are doing to avoid information exposure

To limit the amount of information shared when general respondents do make a purchase, 41% say they pay with cash – this behavior jumps to 52% among those compromised by a data breach. 43% (jumps to 55%) say they refuse to provide a salesperson with their information, and 12% (jumps to 25%) say they have canceled memberships or opted out of loyalty programs.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the survey asked about another common method for refusing to provide personal information – many people simply fake information in any field that’s not tied to billing or their address (hard to get the goods if you fake these). It would have been interesting to learn how many users go this route as I suspect the percentage is fairly high.

The data presented through this survey presents a very compelling argument for companies to provide real benefits in exchange for information, quit asking for information they don’t absolutely need, and to better protect information from data breaches. We’ll see if they take heed, but I’m not holding my breath.


Broadband Adoption Jumps to 75 Percent of US Consumers

January 18, 2011

A bright spot in internet news, the Nielsen Company’s new “State of the Media 2010″ report indicates a 10% jump in high speed internet adoption among consumers in 2010, up from 65% reported in an FCC study in 2009 (Learn more in my blog Stats on Broadband Adoption and Use in America from March 2010).

Nielsen’s research also indicates another 5% of consumers anticipate purchasing high speed internet access in the near future, which would bring the total percentage of US consumers using high speed access to 80%.

As a nation, the broad adoption of high speed internet is critical to our competitive standing in global competition.  As individuals, high speed access is critical to participation in our world.

There are still 25% (Hopefully soon to be 20%) of Consumers without high speed access

With 1-in-4 consumers still without high speed access – whether by choice or due to lack of access – we have a long way to go bridge the digital divide.  This requires us to continue to address affordability issues, provide community access points through libraries, schools, and other resources, help show the value of high speed access, and address the clear safety and values concerns among the non-adopters. The FCC’s study found that nearly half of Americans who remain offline do so in part because they fear “all the bad things that can happen on the Internet”.

These concerns are not solely the domain of non-adopters. Among those who are already online, the survey found that 65% strongly agree there is too much pornography and offensive material on the Internet. And 57% strongly agree that it is too easy for their personal information to be stolen online, while 46% strongly agree that the Internet is too dangerous for children.

To drive adoption, focus must be placed on three additional fronts: education, infrastructure and enforcement.

Education: Service providers should be encouraged to provide site specific, easily discoverable about the benefits of internet access and clear safety information. This information should be provided in Spanish as well as English on the ISP’s websites, with material targeted to specific demographic groups – not just kids and parents, but seniors, adults, and those with unique opportunities or risks.

Public service announcements and public awareness campaigns focus on two areas: informing consumers about the tremendous benefits of online access, as well as teaching core self-protective measures such as recognizing a phishing scam or teaching consumers to identify how information leaks, and avoid posting personal information in public access websites.

Infrastructure: Service providers should be motivated to enhance their services’ infrastructure to include robust security and safety functionality – such as built-in antivirus software and personal/family safety settings – for all accounts. Companies should be encouraged to innovate and seek competitive advantage on the safety front — and emphasize that innovation in their marketing.

Enforcement: The FCC needs to coordinate with the appropriate agencies to ensure that law enforcement at the local, state and national levels are provided the manpower, training, and resources needed to adequately respond to online crimes. Consumers need to feel assured that crimes committed against them online will not go unpunished.

Service providers should be encouraged to enforce their terms of service policies – today most sites have lofty terms, but fail to adequately enforce these – and an unenforced policy is worse than no policy at all as it creates a false sense of safety.

Service providers should also be encouraged to improve their site moderation and develop technologies to identify and respond to abuses as they occur, as well as providing parents with filtering tools and providing information enabling them to monitor and set clear rules for children’s use.

Until consumers are convinced of the relevance of broadband access in their lives, and are convinced that they can go online safely we will continue to see too large a gap between the government’s access goals and consumer’s adoption rates.