One Year After Cambridge Analytica, Survey Reveals Strong Consumer Privacy Fears Remain

One Year After Cambridge Analytica, Survey Reveals Strong Consumer Privacy Fears Remain

Consumer privacy statistic after cambridge analytica

Updated April 24, 2024

While the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica user data scandal happened a while ago, it didn’t merely blow over. In fact, it has significantly impacted the way consumers feel about online privacy — and continues to do so today.

Privacy has become a serious concern for most U.S. consumers interacting with brands online, a SlickText survey finds. A year after Facebook’s sharing of user data with Cambridge Analytica become publicly known, 76.3% of consumers surveyed indicated they are now moderately or significantly concerned about their data when interacting with brands.

This could spell trouble for marketers looking to target consumers online. It also could have a serious impact on brands relying on email marketing and text blast services to connect with their audiences. How will they accurately reach people if most consumers are afraid to share their information?

Here’s what our latest survey revealed about customer sentiment toward online privacy and what brands should do to overcome these fears.

Key survey findings:

  • The 2018 Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal caused lasting worries about user data: 73.9% of consumers surveyed said the Cambridge Analytica scandal made them concerned about how their information is used.
  • Customers are scared away by poor privacy practices: 94.1% of survey respondents are unlikely to do business with a company if they have concerns about their online privacy practices.
  • Consumers don’t like knowing they’re targeted by brands: 76.8% of consumers said when they notice online targeted ads it makes them uncomfortable.
  • Brands need to do a better job of finding communication channels: 80.3% of survey respondents said brands contact them in ways they find inappropriate.
  • Watch those unsubscribes: 51.5% of those surveyed said concerns about online privacy have motivated them to unsubscribe from email newsletters in the last year.

Most respondents indicated online privacy is a significant concern now

The survey asked consumers to categorize the extent to which their attitude toward privacy has changed over the last year. Almost 40% of respondents said security had become a significant concern and only slightly fewer respondents, about 37%, said it was a moderate concern.

When asked specifically about Cambridge Analytica’s impact, a majority of respondents, 26.7%, said the data sharing scandal made them extremely concerned about how their information is used online. ~25% said it made them somewhat concerned, while ~22% said it made them very concerned.

Consumers know they’re being targeted, and don’t like it

So much for hoping targeting could be a smooth marketing tool—85.8% of consumers surveyed said in the year since Cambridge Analytica they have become more aware of brands trying to target them online.

While 30% of consumers said they have become very aware of targeted marketing from brands, those who said they have become extremely aware of targeted marketing from brands weren’t far behind, at 28.8%.

That same amount, 28.8%, said they find it “extremely uncomfortable” when they realize they are being targeted by a brand based on personal information they’ve provided elsewhere on the web.

Brands aren’t reaching out the right way

Only about 20% of survey respondents indicated brands are never inappropriate with their contact methods, leaving about 80% of respondents who feel brands are getting in touch with them through the wrong channels.

What are these inappropriate channels? Well, only 2.4% of respondents indicated they actually like when businesses call them. Even fewer, 0.5% of respondents, said they like when you leave a voicemail.

Online privacy & social media since the Cambridge Analytica scandal

Since 2018, Facebook has pledged to institute a number of changes to protect users including:

  • Consolidating settings into an easy-to-find location
  • Reducing data access from other apps
  • Cutting off data from apps users no longer use
  • Ending some targeted advertising
  • Showing who paid for ads

Still, despite the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, other social media platforms are putting their users’ information at risk.

Most recently, TikTok was ordered to pay a $92 million class-action lawsuit for privacy violations. This came on the heels of another lawsuit in 2019, where they were alleged to have collected and stored the personal information of minors. Other platforms like Snapchat, Google, and Shutterfly have also faced heat recently for online privacy concerns.

What can we learn about how to contact consumers?

Based on these statistics on consumer privacy concerns after Cambridge Analytica, there are several insights to be gained about how consumers want to interact with brands and how to protect online privacy in the age of social media. 

1. Practice opt-in marketing

If you’re sending text messages for your business this should be a standard anyway, since it’s legally required, but even if you’re sending email newsletters, make sure you’re doing so with the consumer’s content. When people actually want to hear from you and feel comfortable about the messages they’re receiving, you’ll likely notice a greater response to your marketing efforts. Remember, strong documentation of opt-in is important legally if you’re sending broadcast texts, especially if you’re sending text message blasts via an SMS short code.

2. Respect their time

Phone calls and voicemails, the two methods consumers indicated were their least favorite ways to be contacted, are as much an intrusion on privacy as they are on the busy schedules of your customers. Don’t ask for too much from your customers when you’re trying to contact them about a product or a service you think they’d like.

3. Be personal but not creepy

There’s a difference between contacting customers by name and knowing the exact item they were planning to order on Amazon but haven’t whispered out loud yet. Personalizing your mass texting can be helpful, but going overboard makes customers uncomfortable. They don’t want to feel like they’re being watched.

Don’t make consumers feel like you know everything about them, and when you do use personalization, use it to be helpful and with data that logically makes sense for you to have. For example, if you’re a dental office it’s probably logical for you to know the last time your client was in for a cleaning. Sending them a text or an email saying “Hi, we haven’t seen you since [DATE], want to schedule a cleaning next week?” isn’t likely to raise alarm bells.

4. Be upfront about your privacy policy

Not having an obvious privacy policy or anti-spam policy is a major red flag for consumers. Feel free to go out of your way to make it clear you care about their privacy. For example, if you’re sending automated text messages, send a link in your first auto-response to your privacy information so consumers can read it if they want. Sometimes just knowing it’s there and you care about it makes the difference.

Survey Methodology:

This survey was administered to a nationally representative sample of 1000 U.S. consumers between January 31, 2019 and February 1, 2019.