NEW YORK: Industry sector is a better guide to online consumers' attitudes towards privacy matters than demographics according to new research.

Consulting firm Bain & Company polled more than 900 US consumers as it explored their views on how companies collect and use their data. It found that most – around 80% – were aware their data was being used in some way, but many were uncomfortable with this. 

Two thirds thought it should be illegal for companies to collect or use such data without getting prior consent.

And 91% of respondents did not want companies selling their data, even if they were compensated for it in some way.

This held true across age, income, education and users' familiarity with the digital world, which had come as a surprise to Eric Almquist, a Bain partner in the firm's Customer Strategy & Marketing and Retail practices who helped design the study.

"The survey showed little variation in attitudes due to demographics or online sophistication," he said.

But differences had appeared when considering which industries might be using that data.

Thus, for example, nearly 70% of respondents wanted to prevent any level of government or any financial institution from sharing their data, but only 43% felt that way about retailers and airlines. Utilities, search engines and communications providers sat somewhere in the middle of these extremes.

The industry differences, said Bain, partly reflected longstanding loyalty programs in retail and travel, as well as the nature of the data that different types of companies collect and store.

Regarding the nature of the data, almost no-one wanted to see financial or health information shared, and this was also true of family/friend networks.

Respondents were happiest about the idea of sharing things such as product reviews which they themselves had consciously contributed; 44% did not require permission to be granted for this.

For advertisers, however, purchase behaviour and demographic data are important data points and less than 20% were ready to share these without permission.

The only viable approach is to ask consumers in a clear, straightforward way, according to Bain. "Open and transparent communication is a good place for any company to start," said Rasmus Wegener, founder of the firm's Advanced Analytics Practice.

Data sourced from Bain & Company; additional content by Warc staff