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Americans Are Willing to Share Their Most Sensitive Personal Data

Written by  Simon Rhodes Jan 23, 2019

Most Americans (58 percent) are willing to allow third parties to collect at least some sensitive personal data, according to a new survey from the Center for Data Innovation.

While many surveys measure public opinions on privacy, few ask consumers about their willingness to make tradeoffs, such as sharing certain personal information in exchange for services or benefits they want. In this survey, the Center asked respondents whether they would allow a mobile app to collect their biometrics or location data for purposes such as making it easier to sign into an account or getting free navigational help, and it asked whether they would allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about their health if it would lead to medical cures for their families or others. Only one-third of respondents (33 percent) were unwilling to let mobile apps collect either their biometrics or location data under any of the described scenarios. And overall, nearly 6 in 10 respondents (58 percent) were willing to let a third party collect at least one piece of sensitive personal data, such as biometric, location, or medical data, in exchange for a service or benefit.

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Table 1: Percentage of respondents who would agree to let a third party collect their data under at least one scenario.

The survey found that 70 percent of Americans would not allow a mobile app to collect their biometric data when potential tradeoffs were not part of the question. But opposition dropped by 6.7 percentage points when respondents were asked whether they would allow mobile apps to collect biometric data if it would make it easier to sign in to their account and by 19.6 percentage points if it would make their account more secure against hackers.

Table 2: Percentage point difference in U.S. Internet users’ level of support for a mobile app collecting their biometric data when presented with possible tradeoffs.

The survey found that approximately 59 percent of Americans would not allow a mobile app to collection their location data when potential tradeoffs were not part of the question. Opposition dropped by 2 percentage points when the tradeoff was getting discounts at nearby stores and restaurants, and by 9.2 percentage points when the tradeoff was getting free traffic and navigational information.

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Table 3: Percentage point difference in U.S. Internet users’ level of support for a mobile app collecting their location data when presented with possible tradeoffs.

The survey found that approximately 61 percent of Americans would not allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about their health when potential tradeoffs were not part of the question. But opposition dropped by 17.6 percentage points if allowing medical researchers to collect sensitive health data could lead to new cures or treatments for respondents’ families or others.

Table 4: Percentage point difference in U.S. Internet users’ level of support for medical researchers collecting sensitive data about their health when presented with possible tradeoffs.

Sentiment varied by age, with older respondents expressing more resistance to sharing their biometric, location, and medical data. For example, 50 percent of respondents aged 55 and older would not allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about their health if it could lead to new cures or treatments for themselves or their families, compared to 38 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds.

The survey also found that slightly more than one-quarter of respondents (28 percent) agreed that people who donate their medical data to researchers working on new cures and treatments should pay less for health care than people who do not.

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