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We often don’t think twice when accepting terms and conditions without even reading them - wanting only to get to the convenience that that app we’ve just downloaded can offer us. The same goes for privacy policies. In our fast-paced digital lives, most of us rush to click “accept” with a tinge of annoyance when a message pops up about cookies. Some of us are more patient, but that optimism is quickly drained when confronted with line upon pesky line of policy.
What are cookies anyway? In this case, they are sadly not the delicious baked confectionery I know we’re all thinking about. In terms of online privacy, cookies (specifically, HTTP cookies) are text files with small pieces of data that are used to identify you and your computer. Ultimately, cookies are used to enhance your browsing experience by knowing which information to serve specifically to you. There are pros and cons when it comes to allowing cookies. A pro; an easy and personalised browsing experience. A con, they are vulnerable to cybercriminals.
In GWI’s latest Connecting The Dots report, they speak about our relationship with online privacy as “digital citizens” and how that relationship has and still is evolving in an article called Data For Good. Good news: it’s not all negative. GWI covers the advantages that come with sharing your personal data along with key insights into how people feel about personal data sharing. Still, a relationship is maintained by two sides, and industries that work with consumers’ sensitive information should use it in a way that benefits both parties. Let’s take a look at how the world feels about this.
Ads are what make the virtual world go-'round but rising concerns around data privacy may just threaten them. In early 2020, Google announced its plan to block 3rd-party cookies (also known as trackers or tracking cookies - created by parties other than the website the user is visiting) from Chrome by 2022. This does not mean the end of tracking though, as it just forces companies like Facebook for example to work around it and instead use 1st-party cookies to do the job.
Interestingly, since the pandemic started there has been an overall decline in concern around data privacy. This could be because individuals are more concerned about how trackers can help the situation. Several apps have been developed that use tracking technology to assist in COVID-19 contact tracing through the use of your phone’s Bluetooth. Many countries have created national apps with this purpose; the South African version being the app called Covid Alert SA.
GWI calls this a “mindset shift” and notes that “declining privacy concerns are most evident in countries that suffered through the pandemic early on” - these being predominantly China and Europe. Sweden’s decline in concern about the internet eroding personal privacy is most notable at -12% since Q4 2019, followed by Switzerland at -9%. This could be due to these countries being “accustomed to stronger protection of their data.”
It seems that consumers deem it more “worth it” to share their data if there is a personal benefit to them - although this benefit has to be free to be worth it. According to GWI, “41% of global consumers prefer to exchange their personal data for free services rather than pay for those services to safeguard their data.”
Now that we’re online more often than not, online privacy has become more important than ever. As we become more informed, we get to know how to be better and better “digital citizens.” Whether the pandemic comes to an end or not, the issue of less online privacy will remain. Whether that should be deemed as an issue or something we can benefit from depends on how we move forward; the right steps involve mindful browsing for consumers and mindful use of digital add-ons such as cookies for businesses.
Interested in online privacy? Check out our episode of The Unfair Advantage Sessions, YOUKNOW’s Kelvin Jonk speaks to Brandwatch founder and CEO, Giles Palmer about his views on the topic.