Online habits hold steady despite privacy concerns

Insights from the Digital Marketing Pulse Report reveal consumers are reluctant to change in search of greater online privacy.
Social marketing

Consumer concern over the privacy implications of digital marketing continues to rise. But, on the whole, those concerns have had a relatively small impact on how consumers behave on social channels, according to research conducted by Ipsos in partnership with strategy and the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA).

Last year, 87% of Canadians identified as being “very worried” about the privacy and security of their personal information, an increase of 7% from the year before, according to the 2019 Digital Marketing Pulse Report, now in its thirteenth year. The consumer portion of the research, of which these findings come, was conducted last July and August through an online survey. The Pulse Report also includes research specific to marketers and their agencies.

The research found that 89% of consumers were “bothered” by the fact that info shared on social could be used to sell products and services to them, and the same percentage acknowledged that they understand the concept of retargeting. A large proportion of people considered online advertising to be annoying (85%) or an invasion of privacy (71%).

At the same time, Canadians’ willingness to be served communications has slightly dropped across a range of online channels: 58% through social media (down 5%), 48% through video advertising (down 4%), 47% through mobile marketing (down 4%) and 81% said they are comfortable receiving communications through email (down 2% from 2018).

One explanation could be that consumers are encountering more ads online, which may be fuelling their desire for greater privacy. Eighty-five percent recalled having received a marketing email in the last six months (up 2% from the year before), 76% encountered a video ad (up 2%), 60% saw an ad while browsing on a cell phone (same as last year) and 56% received a promotional text message (up 4%).

While consumers’ tolerance for online advertising appears to have fallen, if only slightly, Canadians as a whole appear less willing to change their own social habits in search of greater privacy. The Pulse Report found 67% of consumers had not changed their social habits in the months leading up to the survey, and only 22% reported being more careful about what they post – down from 27% in 2018 – while 11% have stopped using social platforms altogether, a slight bump up of 1% from 2018 numbers.

As another example of this privacy paradox, consumers were more likely to unsubscribe from email communications in the last six months in order to reduce clutter in their inboxes (48%) or reduce screen time and digital distractions (31%), than they were for privacy reasons (23%).

What’s more, a large proportion of Canadians continue to interact with the communications they are served online. For example, many recalled joining or “liking” a campaign or brand on Facebook or another social network (57%, down slightly from 60% in 2018) or sharing a product ad or information with friends via social (41%, down from 46%). Fifty-three percent responded to a promotional email and 31% responded to a promotional text message.