Canadians' personal information – and what companies do with it – have made headlines recently. And greater awareness of the value of consumer data has led to a shift in thinking: People are increasingly going to demand that marketers that collect and analyze their data give them something of value in return.
That's the prediction in a new report from Microsoft Corp. being released on Thursday. The study measured consumer attitudes toward technology through a survey of more than 9,000 people in nine countries, including 1,050 in Canada.
Nearly half of the Canadians surveyed – 45 per cent – said they are "interested in selling their data for rewards." That's a significantly higher number than consumers in the United States, where only roughly one-third said the same. And it reflects a growing realization among consumers that their information holds real value for companies attempting to target them more effectively with advertising that aligns with their needs and interests.
"Consumers have agreed for [companies] to use data, but they have not been part of the value exchange," said Lynne Clarke, marketing director at Microsoft Canada. "They've been giving up their information in a kind of general course of events. … They're aware that it has a greater value, especially now that they're seeing more targeted advertising."
That issue has been especially top of mind in Canada recently. This month, the federal Privacy Commissioner told Google Inc. to beef up its oversight of the online ads it sells, after an investigation found that a man's health information was used to target ads for medical devices to him.
And in October, people took notice when Bell Canada issued a note to its customers informing them that it planned to use more of the data it gathers to improve services, protect against fraud, and to make "the ads and marketing partner offers you see more relevant to you."
Groups representing Canada's advertisers have launched an initiative that is aimed at educating people more effectively about "behavioural" or targeted advertising, to disclose when they are seeing targeted ads, and to give them the chance to opt out.
Microsoft's study found that 32 per cent of Canadian consumers said they would sell all of their digital data – including nearly everything they have done online – for the right price.
But that does not mean we're all on the verge of giving up our information. Microsoft also found a huge disconnect in terms of what consumers believe the "right price" would be, and what companies typically pay for that kind of data.
Among those surveyed in Canada, the average asking price for all that online data over a six-month period would be $2,168 – a per-person figure that simply does not add up for advertisers.
However, Microsoft's report still suggests that in the future, "digital data brokerage" could develop that sees a more direct value exchange for consumers who choose to share their information. Others, such as analyst Drew McReynolds at RBC Dominion Securities for example, have also suggested that some kind of "information exchange" that would see fair market value paid to consumers for their information could be the future.
It's incredibly important for advertisers; technology has given people not only a greater awareness about the value of their data, but also has led to a demand that companies use that data the right way: To make products and ads more useful to them. Fifty-three per cent said they are more likely to buy from companies that "reward us for our digital information."
""What we're witnessing is the consumer taking back the reins and wanting to control everything about themselves," Microsoft's Ms. Clarke said. "It's not that they don't want their data to be used. Our results are showing that effective, targeted messaging is what consumers want. But they want more of a reward for themselves."