Most businesses don’t realize customers mistrust how their data is used, but customers haven’t switched businesses because they feel they don’t have a choice, revealed a new report from PwC, Consumer Intelligence Series: Trusted Tech Report.

The biggest surprise from the report was “the strong global unity of consumers in their yearning for trust,” said Jay Cline, PwC US privacy leader. “Across countries as diverse as the United States, Canada, the UK, China, and India, between 80% and 90% of consumers said they wished there were more companies they could trust with their data.”

Be the better choice, be trustworthy to customers

Customers feel trapped, and are skeptical that another company will be better. The PwC report looks at customer trust in business and how those businesses can build much-needed trust.

Faced with a lack of better options, “some consumers are simply dropping out: one in 10 are expecting their overall usage of and engagement with technology to decrease in the next six months,” according to the report.

“Markets are ready to be disrupted by companies who can get this right,” Cline said. Businesses cannot afford to “bet” its future “on the hope that no competitor will give consumers a better option tomorrow,” the report warned. The goal, suggested the report, is for a business to become the better choice.

SEE: 5 things developers should know about data privacy and security (TechRepublic)

Consumers know they trade data for “free” apps

More and more global consumers understand the staid old concept of “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” meaning, they recognize the implicit contract in which they give up data for “free” apps and sites. Most consumers (76%) recognize that sharing data with companies is a “necessary evil,” but recognize the benefits in doing so.

“Five million mobile apps delighted consumers with their features and convenience in spite of their data sharing, but it’s not a stable situation,” Cline warned.

When it comes to privacy, for example, 67% said “they have little to no control over how their data is used,” and 60% said “they expect the companies they do business with to have an eventual data breach,” which makes sense given that 34% polled said that one or more companies that have their data already have had a breach.

What consumers want from businesses

Despite the “other business challenges such as talent shortage and trade policy” that produced “more immediate tangible effects on profits,” Cline said, businesses, which don’t consider security a top-tier problem, should seriously consider “investments in privacy and security,” even though the “return on investment is usually seen over a longer period of time.”

Consumers, the report said, have a reasonable expectation for privacy with the data they provide the private sector; 84% of consumers will take their business elsewhere if they don’t trust how a company is handling their data, and 85% said they wish there more companies they could trust with their data.

Comparatively, 90% of business leaders recognize that customer trust is a competitive advantage of the future, but less than half of business leaders consider privacy and security to be a top priority for firms.

While 83% of consumers seek more control of their data, 67% said they do have “nervousness” over sharing data, but benefits outweigh the risks.

SEE: Feature comparison: Data analytics software, and services (TechRepublic Premium)

Consumers and security

Consumers want companies to provide trust and to offer them control over their data.

  • 86% call it the responsibility of business to protect consumer data, in part because they know what they don’t know.
  • 59% call themselves “novices” at protecting their own personal privacy, perhaps because privacy documents can stretch to dozens of pages, which few have time to read.
  • Only 27% of consumers know what hardware/software tokens are.
  • Only 35% know what identity-theft monitoring is.
  • 52% of global consumers said they would leave their current social-media platforms for one that protects their data better.

The state of businesses’ trustworthiness

According to consumers, 76% said companies (in general) are facing a crisis of consumer trust, yet the cause of that mistrust is apparently elsewhere: 80% of businesses give themselves an A or B for protecting consumer data. Businesses also think things are getting better, and 55% said consumer trust in their technology is growing.

  • Only 21% of global consumers actually report such growing trust.
  • A larger proportion (28%) said their trust in businesses’ technology has been falling.
  • 58% of global leaders said it’s primarily the job of business–not consumers or the government–to improve data privacy and security.
  • 85% percent said they comply with global privacy and security regulations, rather than shopping for often-lower ones in individual jurisdictions.
  • 54% of business leaders said encryption is a top priority.
  • 73% report “privacy and security are hard to prioritize among all the other things that we must accomplish at my company.”
  • 72% said that it’s hard to invest in something that “feels invisible,” like behind-the-scenes security.

SEE: Cheat sheet: Data management (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Consumers perceptions of security

Consumers understand that no matter how good a security system is, there may be breaches.

  • Only 27% would stop doing business if their data security or privacy were impacted by an incident.
  • Only 31% would automatically move on if there was a security breach in mobile payments.
  • 62% of consumers said they would either “wait and see” how the company responded or “seek” an alternative provider–and “seek” implies that they might still stay with the company that had failed them once.
  • 44% of consumers call “transparency and quick action after a breach” a top-action for building or rebuilding trust.
  • 39% of consumers cite transparency about a company’s use of consumer data as a trust builder
  • 39% consider transparency about whether and how their data is shared as a trust builder.

Consumers want to see data security/privacy made a core corporate value, no third-party sales of their data (39%), the option to choose how their data is used (37%) and clarity about how they can set privacy settings (36%).

How to keep consumers

  1. Declare privacy and security a core value, so consumers can hold you to it.
  2. Choose privacy and security by design; weave it throughout the entire organization.
  3. Prove to customers that you respect them.
  4. Should a breach occur, act quickly and transparently.

The future of business and trust

Tolerance is declining, and 36% of consumers are less comfortable sharing information than they were a year ago. Building and maintaining customer trust will be the competitive advantage of the future said nine in 10 business leaders.

  • Only 17% are more comfortable sharing information now than they were a year ago.
  • 56% would rather keep their information private and settle for generic products and services, rather than sharing personal information to enable products and services tailored to their needs.

“Consumers overwhelmingly said that transparency is the most important position for a company to take after a data breach,” Cline concluded. “Without openness about what happened, what they’re doing to fix it, and what consumers can do to protect themselves, there’s no basis for them to re-establish trust.” There is a clear direction to rebuilding trust on privacy: don’t sell consumers’ data, give them control, and only use what you need.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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