Study shows consumers resigned to give up data for discounts

Companies collect information about you each time you use their store loyalty card to get a discount on a purchase. And when you visit a store and use its free Wi-Fi, your online activity is being monitored.

Marketers claim that Americans think it’s a fair exchange to trade data for discounts online, on apps, and in stores. Joe Turow offers a different explanation: resignation.

A national survey led by Turow, the Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Communication in Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication, shows that Americans aren’t happy that they have to give their name, phone number, email address, and other data to get discounts. They do it because they believe marketers will get the data anyway.

Turow co-authored the report “The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers Are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploitation,” with Michael Hennessy, project manager and statistician in the Health Communication Group of Penn’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, and recent Annnenberg Ph.D. grad Nora Draper, now an assistant professor in the communication department at the University of New Hampshire.

“Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them,” Turow says.

The report shows that Americans’ willingness to provide personal information to marketers can’t be explained by the public’s poor knowledge of the ins and outs of digital commerce.

In fact, Turow says that people who know more about ways marketers can use their personal information are more likely to accept discounts in exchange for data.

Nearly all of the survey respondents—91 percent—don’t think that it’s a fair exchange for companies to give them discounts and then collect information about them without their knowledge.

More than half don’t want to lose control over their information, but believe that the loss of control has already happened.

The study was based on a national telephone survey of approximately 1,500 Americans age 18 and older who use the internet or email “at least occasionally.” A copy of the report is available on the Annenberg School website.

Personal data