Tighter European data regs ease consumer privacy fears

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Three months after Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect, consumers are shedding some concerns about sharing data.

The regulations are aimed at Europe, but are expected to have global impact as governments consider their own data sharing regulations. The impact is already apparent in the U.S., where 61% of U.S. consumers would voluntarily share deeper and more specific information with corporations if they felt it would improve the services they receive, according to London-based Smart Communications, which commissioned market research from Harris Interactive.

Consumers generally approve of GDPR’s goals of tightening data protection and consumer privacy, and more than half would consider fleeing to another provider if they suspected corporations were unclear in their communications or intentions about gathering data.
“There’s a worldwide pushback on corporations mishandling consumer data, but when consumers trust a company and feel like they’re in the driver’s seat on controlling their own information, they’re willing to share more details and information to get more personalized service,” said James Brown, CEO of Smart Communications, which consults with global firms on GDPR compliance.

Consumers prefer “clear and meaningful” communications from corporations about the type and purpose of data gathered, and they want the right to opt in or out, according to Brown.

“In this research consumers told us once they trust an organization, they’re willing to share deeper information to get better service, as long as they feel they’re in control of the relationship,” Brown said.

Most consumers prefer to interact with corporations via email. Seventy percent of U.K. consumers and 65% of U.S. consumers would rather interact with corporations via email versus other communication channels, including paper, SMS/text or chatbot/voice assistants, the according to the study.

But consumer communication channel preferences are poised to change, Brown said.

“Consumers like to choose their method of communicating with corporations, and a minority currently would prefer to communicate exclusively via text. Increasingly, corporations will need to provide a range of communication channels and respect the one consumers prefer,” he said.

Chatbots and virtual assistants are still on the fringe for many consumers sharing personal information with corporations, but Brown predicts these automated channels will gradually increase in popularity.

“GDPR in many ways is forcing corporations to improve the quality of communications around data sharing, but it’s also opening the door for corporations to create a richer dialogue with consumers, and chatbots are one of the ways consumers can have a two-way conversation in real time, resulting in deeper data sharing and more personalized customer service,” Brown said.

GDPR requires European companies to comply with specific standards for gathering consumer data, and corporations worldwide are overhauling data-privacy rules to avoid potentially stiff penalties for failing to comply with the far-reaching rules.

Harris Interactive conducted the online study in June among 500 consumers in the U.S. and U.K., focusing on consumer privacy preferences for corporations in financial services, health care and insurance.

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