A new study recently released by Zebra Technologies is increasing the confusion about whether consumers are willingly sharing personal information, and what motivates them to provide that information when they do share.

The Zebra study shows that 46 percent of consumers are uncomfortable sharing personal information when making purchases online. And, while an aggregated 40 percent indicated that they are somewhat or extremely comfortable receiving text message offers based on previous purchases, 60 percent said they were uncomfortable with websites tracking behavior.

In contrast, a study from the marketing and loyalty analytics firm Aimia argues that 70 to 80 percent of consumers are willing to share some combination of name, email, DOB, occupation, nationality and other data. The study suggests that trust in a company is the driving force behind this rather than trading data for discounts, but more than two-thirds believe sharing this information is necessary in order to receive special offers.

Challenging the notion that consumers’ willingly provide information is a study from the University of Pennsylvania. “The Tradeoff Fallacy” contends that tradeoffs are an illusion; instead people have resigned themselves to the fact that surrendering their details is inevitable and are doing so out of a sense of futility rather than as an exchange for perks. During their research, the authors found:

  • 91 percent disagree with the notion that collecting personal information is a fair exchange for discounts;
  • 71 percent do not agree that an online or physical store’s monitoring of online behavior is a fair exchange for free use of wireless or internet services;
  • More than half (55 percent) do not think a store should use information that has been collected to create a profile for the purpose of tailoring services to the individual; and
  • Only four percent agree strongly that data collection and monitoring is a fair exchange for commercial benefits or services.

This report also questions the assertion in the Aimia report that concerns over data protection are what create reticence, but receiving a reward, discount, or other perk is viewed as an acceptable tradeoff (70 percent think this) if data is secure. Furthermore, the Penn report suggests that consumers capitulate out of fear of receiving sub-standard service if they do not comply with requests for personal information and tracking.

As the battle over personal information moves forward, the authors of “The Tradeoff Fallacy” conclude that transparency may be needed in all lanes of the information superhighway so that marketers can continue measuring ROI while consumers are able to retain a sense of control over what companies know about them and how their personal details are used.


MarketingCharts. “Consumers Wary of Sharing Personal Data with Retailers,” September 10, 2015.

Joseph Turow, Michael Hennessy, and Nora Draper, “The Tradeoff Fallacy,” June 2015.