Beware: Your browsing habits expose privacy preferences

I’ve always believed that there are two kinds of people in this world: Those who think there are two kinds of people in this world, and everyone else.

It turns out I was wrong. There are actually five kinds of people—at least, five kinds of people on the Internet, according to a new survey commissioned by MasterCard. The credit issuer collected responses to more than 50 questions from 9029 regular Internet users in nine countries, easily making it the largest such survey I’m aware of.

Mind you, these folks aren’t like your brother in law who thinks the Internet is a fad and still uses a flip phone held together by duct tape. These are habitual Internet users who are online at least once a week and generally much more. According to the MasterCard Digital Sharing and Trust Project, they fall into one of five kinds of “social citizen,” split almost equally within the population.

 

Open Sharers: I don’t have to tell you who these people are, because you already know everything about them, whether you want to or not. Open sharers are younger (average age 32), college graduates (61 percent), own more smartphones (83 percent), use Twitter every day (45 percent), and are 99.7 percent more likely to annoy you with inane trivia about their cats. (That’s my interpretation, not MasterCard’s.)

On the other hand, open sharers are very aware of targeted marketing, expect to get something in return for sharing their data, and are more savvy than most when it comes to privacy.

Simply Interactors. These people think Facebook is the Internet, thus they spend all day posting inspirational sayings and cat videos to their walls. They are slightly older on average than Open Sharers, more likely to be female (55 percent), and about a third less likely to own a smartphone or a tablet. They are the least likely to hold a full time job (46 percent), probably because they spend so much freakin’ time on Facebook.

Simple Interactors are much more savvy about social networks than the average user, but fall behind everywhere else, including awareness of data and privacy issues.

Solely Shoppers. Like the name implies, these folks are master bargain hunters, using the Net to compare prices against brick and mortar shops. Otherwise, they have little use for the Internet. Entertainment, news, social interaction? Meh. Just show them the deals.

Interestingly, these folks are both the juiciest targets for Internet marketers and the most clueless; they are almost completely unaware of how data is used to target them.

Passive Users. According to the survey, these people “are not fully convinced of the value of the Internet.” They use a lot of mobile apps; social networks not so much. They’re more likely to be male and less likely to be married. The Passive User is extremely willing to give up his data while simultaneously being unaware of targeted marketing or how to manage his privacy.

MasterCard isn’t saying, but I think we all know how these guys spend most of their time online. (Hint: It starts with p and rhymes with horn.)

Proactive Protectors.  Though they sound like something you’d wear to fend off a social disease, Proactive Protectors are probably the geekiest of the lot, if also the least common (17 percent of the total). They’re the oldest (average age 39) and among the best educated (60 percent college grads) and most employable (58 percent). They share a lot in common with the first group, Open Sharers, save for the fact that they’re mostly unwilling to spill their guts in public. Three out of four routinely clear their browser cookies, if that’s any indication.

They are, in short, cranky old dudes who are suspicious of social networks and covetous of their data. You can guess where I fit into this scheme. All I can say is, cranky old dudes for the win.

The real lessons

Aside from the personality typing, which is fun but mostly silly, the survey has some real takeaways that once again refute the notion that a) we have no privacy, and b) even if we did, nobody cares about it.

To wit:

  • 64 percent of those surveyed realize their data has value to merchants
  • 55 percent like being sent orders tailored to their interests
  • Six out of ten know how to change their browser privacy settings
  • Only one in three approves of online tracking, even if does let them see “more interesting” ads

My take on these results: Though people go online for various reasons, nearly all of them see the value in the data they are generating—and wish to be compensated in some fashion. They’re also savvier than many give them credit for. Merchants and advertisers would be well advised to realize these things, sooner rather than later.

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