Privacy worries are on the rise, new poll of U.S. consumers shows

IDC advises businesses to advertise the steps they take to protect personal information

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Credit: Philippe Teuwen

A recent IDC survey found 84% of U.S. consumers are concerned about the privacy of their personal information, with 70% saying their concern is greater today than it was a few years ago.

These concerns of consumers should also alarm businesses: Consumers are willing to switch to another bank, medical center or retailer if they feel their personal information is threatened, the survey found.

"Consumers can exact punishment for data breaches or mishandled data by changing buyer behavior or shifting loyalty," said Sean Pike, an analyst at IDC, in a statement. The survey, released last week, polled 2,500 U.S. consumers about their privacy concerns across four verticals: Financial services, healthcare, retail and government.

Younger consumers, aged 18 to 35, were more concerned for their privacy than older consumers, aged 36 to 50, the survey found. The younger age group also had a 56% likelihood of switching business providers based on an impending hacker threat, compared to 53% for the older group. Meanwhile, women were more likely to switch than men, by a difference of 8 percentage points, for an impending hacker threat.

If a breach affected them directly, 78% of all consumers said they would switch to another business from the one where the breach occurred.

IDC said that with retail businesses, many consumers are not aware of the amount or kinds of information that retailers collect. Such information can include the items a shopper has bought and at what time of day, and even how long a customer lingers in a store.

The survey found that shoppers increasingly are willing to evaluate a store's track record for protecting personal information. "It is in a retailer's best interest to define what information they are tracking firmly and clearly, and to provide consumers methods to manage those preferences," IDC's report said. "Retailers who do not take consumer data protection seriously may find that they permanently lose customers to competitors that offer more transparency and manageability of their Personally Identifiable Information."

For the healthcare sector, IDC's survey found that increasing numbers of ransomware attacks will impact consumer confidence for a particular provider. New guidance under HIPAA (the health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) notes that ransomware attacks like those at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center and Kansas Heart Hospital are considered security incidents that could lead to finding a breach of federal Protected Health Information.

In the financial sector, IDC said, federal laws that have capped consumer liability for fraud at $50 have helped banks "become very good at catching and even predicting fraudulent charges." Even so, 60% of respondents in the IDC survey said they would switch their financial service provider based on a potential threat to their personal information.

IDC advised businesses to engage consumers with security-specific advertisements and other messaging that show the business takes steps to protect personal information. Only 38% of consumers in the survey said they had actively engaged a business about security before being entering into a business arrangement. IDC noted that consumers who have been burned by a security breach may respond to a security-specific pitch by a competitor.

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