Online privacy is a serious issue for both consumers and brands. Not a week goes by without a high profile story in the media about a company that has created a serious error or people have been affected by the poor online privacy security. As more and more of us are required to give important personal information away to brands via the internet, it’s understandable why people express concern about how their data is being handled by companies. The G2 eCultures report of over 6000 EU online users has in fact revealed that more than half of those surveyed are concerned about online privacy and data security. This staggering figure highlights the issue that needs serious consideration from data owners.

Consumers have various tactics of protecting their online privacy. Sixty per cent of the respondents from our survey claim they actively try to keep track of who is able to see what they share online through methods such as altering privacy settings on social media websites. Another more simplistic and intelligent tactic is to create an alias to protect their real identity. In addition, a substantial forty six per cent of interviewees admitted to using a fake online surname. This however, only seems to be a partial solution as only three out of ten recipients studied believed they have the desired level of control over their ‘data trail’. In summary, this shows the EU population believes there is a substantial lack of privacy control online.

It makes sense that the more familiar consumers are with the digital environment, the easier they find it to take precautions in order to ensure their data is safe online. The G2 eCultures report revealed that nearly half (45%) of the more digitally adept users have more confidence that they have achieved their desired privacy levels. However, when compared with people who are less online proficient and who only use the internet for five hours or less a day, the contrast across the population is striking. Moreover, seventy two per cent of this group say they are still learning how to deal with their privacy issues.

Many consumers have fierce objections to the idea that brands and large companies retain a lot of their personal information on file. An investigation by G2 EMEA, revealed that whilst the vast majority of people expect companies to handle their data responsibly, only a third actually trust them to do so. Brands need to reassure consumers that they can be depended upon to respect their privacy and only collect data when the individual has given it knowingly. In addition, they must be transparent and help people deal with privacy control by offering advice and information. Confidence in brands is key in order to bridge the existing gap between expectations and trust. Achieving this is a crucial challenge for brands in the future. ‘Respect my privacy, personal space and information’ has been outlined as the top demand of online brands by consumers, as a result of the study. It was further found that brands are missing a trick when it comes to those who reveal themselves to be more concerned about their privacy. This group consisting of over half the EU consumers questioned, are less likely to buy online and are not forthcoming to recommend brand communities to others. This amounts to lost opportunity for half of brands target audiences that could be shopping and interacting online.

There are interesting discrepancies between different regions across the EU. For example the research revealed, countries with an older population such as UK, France and Germany display lower levels of concern regarding their online privacy. In the UK and Russia people are more likely to try and keep track of who see what they share online rather than using aliases. In Spain and Germany, however, users prefer to use another name. The UK and Germany are more demanding; with significantly more people in these countries expecting companies to handle their data responsibly. In comparison, Russia and Romania that have lower levels of expectation and don’t believe brands use their personal information appropriately all the time. Across Europe as whole, respecting privacy, private space and information are the primary concerns in their perception of brands, with the exception of Russia. Companies talking to individuals about things they are interested was the second most highly rated demand.

In summary, encouraging consumers to click the purchase button is ultimately the brand’s most important objective. This risks being seriously hindered by leaving data worries of online users unaddressed. Now consumers have higher expectations of brands and people shop less when they lack confidence in the company’s dedication to online privacy. Increasing online privacy and talking to users about policies will only increase engagement and generate positive responses and purchases.