Most Consumers Willing To Share Data About Who They Are, But Not Where They Are


ARF study shows promise of customization does not significantly alter willingness to share data


Consumers are willing to share a variety of data regarding who they are, but not information that can be used to personally identify them or locate them in the physical world, even if it would enhance customization of their content experience.

That’s the finding of a study commissioned by the Advertising Research Foundation and released today at the ARF’s AUDIENCExSCIENCE Conference.

The study was conducted by the ARF as part of its initiative to advance data privacy and protection guidelines for the advertising industry.


Survey findings:

  • While the clear majority of adults are willing to share gender (95%), race or ethnicity (91%) and even sexual orientation (82%), they are not willing to share their social security number (91% not willing to share), home (57%) and work addresses (67%), any form of phone number (66% will not share home landline and 65% will not share mobile number) phone, financial (78%) or medical information (71%).


…but won’t share detail about how to locate or track them


  • The study found that offering to customize the media experience using personal data did not significantly change a person’s willingness to share or not share the data.

Offering to customize the experience doesn’t dramatically change the data people are willing to share…


  • Levels of trust point to a large degree of polarization among people in the US:  49% trust television news, while 51% do not. Forty-five percent trust social media sites they visit regularly while 55% do not.

Trust is not evenly distributed – reflects political polarization

  • For the data they will share, the relative dollar value they assign is comparable across data types. If they were to be compensated for their data, the majority say that $1 – $10 is the right price, while approximately 1/3 say that they do not need to be compensated for that data.
  • Some of the key terminology used in privacy policies is not well understood, in particular, terms like: “first and third-party data,” “pixel tags,” “application data caches,” and “server logs.”

“In light of recent revelations, we must take a step back and understand how people in the US feel about the retention and use of their personal and behavioral data,” said Scott McDonald, president, and CEO of the ARF.

“This survey has a clear call to action to all companies in the ARF,” he continued. “We must respect the right to privacy and not fool ourselves that we have communicated clearly about how data are being collected and used.  Ad tech, in particular, has created something of a House of Babel where we assume privacy policies filled with jargon and thousands of words of clarification are being read and understood. A first step is to be extremely transparent and direct in how we communicate. If we do not do so, we risk losing the valuable respect and trust of the US population.  We need to address people in the US, not just as ‘consumers’, but as individuals whose data is a privilege to access, not a right.”

Key Takeaways

  • Willingness to share data is not a function of device/platform
    • More likely to engage in privacy-sensitive activities on desktop
  • Most willing to share descriptive data about themselves
    • But nervous about sharing data mapped to their physical location
    • PII data remain sensitive
    • The promise of customization doesn’t reduce nervousness about PII
      • Nor does familiarity with the publisher
  • It’s not about the money
    • If willing to share data, don’t expect much $
    • If not willing to share, PII is “priceless”
  • Terms and conditions not well understood
    • We understand the benefits of customization
    • But not the tools; not the data marketplace


The ARF surveyed 1,223 adults 18+, balanced by age, gender and region in order to understand how well consumers understood common privacy terms, what personal data they were willing to share and how their attitude changed when offered the benefit of greater customization of their online experience. The survey also delved into the value consumers placed on their data, and what institutions consumers trust and to what degree. The survey was fielded from June 1- 3, 2018 in a mobile-device friendly format using the Qualtrix survey tool.

About the Advertising Research Foundation

Founded more than 80 years ago, the ARF is dedicated to creating, curating, and sharing objective, industry-level advertising research to enable members to make a true impact on their advertising and build marketing leadership within their organizations. It has 400 members from leading brand advertisers, agencies, research firms, and media-tech companies. For more information, please visit


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