The Conference Board uses cookies to improve our website, enhance your experience, and deliver relevant messages and offers about our products. Detailed information on the use of cookies on this site is provided in our cookie policy. For more information on how The Conference Board collects and uses personal data, please visit our privacy policy. By continuing to use this Site or by clicking "OK", you consent to the use of cookies. 


Consumers' Attitudes about Data Practices

Customer data can be a gold mine for marketers—but how can both marketers and consumers best benefit? This research explores consumers’ perceptions, preferences, sentiments, and behaviors when it comes to companies’ practices regarding the collection and usage of personal data. The findings are from The Conference Board® Global Consumer Confidence Survey, an online survey of almost 32,000 consumers in 63 markets, conducted in collaboration with Nielsen in February 2020. The sample includes 500 respondents per market, representative of each market’s online population by age and gender. This research is a collaboration between The Conference Board and Nielsen to address a timely and pressing topic of broad interest to business and policy audiences. A slide deck featuring graphics of the findings is available here.

Insights for What’s Ahead

Data security, third-party sharing, and lack of transparency are consumers’ top worries. Most people are uncomfortable with having their personal data collected. Data breaches, third-party sharing, and nontransparent data practices are consumers’ top concerns—much ahead of sacrificing access to products and services if they reject a company’s privacy policies. Operating with transparency and giving people options are essential to ease concerns. Smart data practices such as minimizing and anonymizing data, not storing data, favoring contextual over person-specific customization, and offering opt-in policies and tracking-free options can delight customers.

Consumers value free content significantly more than personalized content as a benefit of sharing their data. Globally, nearly half of consumers would be fine with lack of customization if it meant no tracking. But only a third of them would be fine with giving up free content/paying for content if it meant no tracking. The lower appreciation for personalization could partly be due to lack of awareness. Consumers might appreciate customization more (enough to be tracked) if companies clearly explained the benefits of it. Companies could help them understand which offerings, messages, and experiences are personalized and demonstrate what consumers’ experience would look like without personalization.

More than 40 percent of consumers globally would agree to be tracked in exchange for discounts on certain services or information related to their current location. People ascribe value to their data and want value in return, with certain discounts and location-related information being their most preferred benefits in exchange for their data. They are least willing to share their facial image and voice to enhance convenience and personalize purchase suggestions. In some regions such as Europe and North America, even certain discounts can’t overcome many people’s discomfort with sharing personal data, highlighting the importance of a new solution to data practices.

Consumers believe data sharing mostly benefits companies, not them. Globally, only a third of consumers feel that companies’ use of their data has improved their lives. Almost two-thirds feel that personal data mostly benefit companies. Today’s data strategies need to incorporate an education element to explain how the use of personal data benefits customers. Education includes making users aware of free and personalized content and enhanced convenience and services made possible by personal data. For long-term customer satisfaction, companies need to build trust with consumers to ease data-sharing concerns.

Globally, one-third of consumers are against third-party data sharing. Almost a quarter find third-party sharing acceptable if they have control over what is shared, and about a fifth find it acceptable if data are shared for select beneficial transactions. Overall, receiving money for data seems less popular than enjoying financial savings (free content, discounts) from sharing data: only 15 percent would accept third-party data sharing in return for financial compensation. Giving customers a voice in third-party sharing is a way to share select data with external parties while gaining customer trust.

Corporate data practices can have an important financial impact. They influence the vast majority of consumers’ purchase decisions, especially in Asia-Pacific. When consumers don’t like data practices, their top reactions are to limit data sharing and reduce or abandon their brand patronage. Corporate data practices can also be a differentiator and competitive advantage. Employing data practices that customers appreciate may ultimately pay off by encouraging additional business with existing and new customers and minimizing negative reactions.

People need and value help in recognizing fake content. Less than half of consumers globally think they would recognize fake content. Hence, consumers need—and will appreciate—help identifying made-up content. Initiatives to flag altered media and fabricated or misleading content, like those recently instituted by Twitter and Facebook, can increase users’ trust in content, its source, and the platform/channel. A joint effort by the digital ecosystem—from brands to browsers to social media to device manufacturers—to increase consumers’ trust in data practices could benefit everyone.

Minimizing data usage can gain customer goodwill. Consumers favor minimized data use, permission-based email traffic, and a data helpline as potential new services. Some consumers are fine with companies using their data without permission as long as they don’t store their personal data. These preferences show that sophisticated data practices such as limiting data collection and storage, giving customers control over incoming email, and supporting customers who have data questions can build customer trust and satisfaction.

Consumers want external oversight of some sort; most prefer a government-led data watchdog. In all regions but the Americas, government-run consumer protection agencies are clearly people’s preferred way of supervising data practices. In North and Latin America, private consumer advocacy groups are equally appreciated. By proactively choosing to collaborate with governments and consumer advocacy organizations on data policies, companies can have a say in the process of addressing consumer concerns.

Regional profiles: highlights and geographic differences

North America

  • Data breaches a particular concern (p. 5)
  • More willing to give up benefits of data sharing, including product/service usage (p. 5)
  • After Europe, least open to sharing data for insurance discounts, personalization, etc. (p. 19)
  • Much more appreciation for free than personalized content (p. 20, 21, 22)
  • More likely than people in most regions to reject third-party data sharing (p. 17)
  • Globally least likely to accept disliked data practices without changing behavior or taking action (p. 6)
  • “Exclusively myself” is clearly top option for data ownership (p. 25)

Asia-Pacific (excluding China)*

  • More likely to feel well informed about data practices and to feel that companies’ data usage is personally beneficial (p. 15 and 13)
  • Personalized content only slightly less valued than free content (p. 21)
  • Globally, most willing to share data for insurance discounts, personalization, etc. (p. 19)
  • Most likely among all regions to switch to brand with better data practices, skip brand temporarily, and complain to company or third party (p. 6)
  • Less likely to categorically reject third-party data sharing than other regions (p. 17)
  • Only region favoring shared consumer-company ownership of data (p. 25)

* Due the COVID-19 crisis peaking in China at the time of the survey, the completion rate in China was too low to include this market in the analysis. See the methodology section for the markets included.


  • Most likely globally to indicate they have no data concerns and have never disliked data practices (p. 5)
  • Majority disagrees—the most globally—that use of data has improved their lives (p. 13)
  • Less brand switching than elsewhere for better data practices (p. 6)
  • Most likely to categorically reject third-party data sharing (p. 17)
  • Least willing globally to share data for discounts, personalization, etc. (p. 19)
  • Lawmakers more popular as data watchdog than elsewhere (p. 26)

Latin America

  • Greatest level of concern among regions (p. 7)
  • Region with second-highest level of inaction if discontent with data practices (p. 6)
  • Most likely globally to voice discontent to others (p. 6)
  • Among regions most open to third-party data sharing, especially if data to share can be specified (p. 17)
  • Region least willing to give up on free content, apps, etc. (p. 21, 22)
  • Among new concepts, minimizing data use has greatest appeal among all regions (p. 24)
  • Lawmakers least preferred data watchdog (lowest across regions) (p. 26)

Africa & Middle East

  • Generally much lower level of concern regarding data practices (p. 7)
  • Region with highest level of inaction if discontent with data practices (p. 6)
  • Third-party data sharing much less of a concern comparatively (p. 17)
  • Much less discomfort with data collection than elsewhere and less of a sense that companies benefit most from data (p. 12, 11)
  • Region with lowest confidence in recognizing fake content (p. 16)
  • Personalized content only slightly less valued than free content (p. 21)



Denise Dahlhoff, PhD

Senior Researcher, Consumer Research
The Conference Board




Window On

Window On

September 29, 2021

Window On

Window On

October 27, 2021





Support Our Work

Support our nonpartisan, nonprofit research and insights which help leaders address societal challenges.