Post-GDPR, it’s becoming ever clearer that consumers will have to decide whether they are willing to give up their personal data, and if so, to what extent. Michael Hanbury-Williams assesses their options.

This is not a question of data security. That’s already become a hygiene factor and brands that fail that test already face reputational (and financial) damage. It’s about how much – or how little – of an individual’s personal data is up for grabs for marketers.

It’s a sliding scale, as all these things tend to be, but the options fall broadly into two camps.

The Googles – take my data!

On the one hand, we have the ‘Google’ customers. They are willing to give up some or all of their personal data in a value exchange with a brand or provider in order to experience the best possible ‘free’ services.

This is the pact we currently make with Google or Amazon, which is selling more data as its ad business ramps up. The younger generation have quite a laissez-faire attitude to it, accepting they give up their data for a more personalised offering and better quality of service. These customers find the benefits of this arrangement outweigh any niggling concerns over data privacy.

And yes, personalisation often does make those services better. Look at the Google Maps experience compared to Apple Maps, for example. But on the other hand, the inertia and inconvenience of turning off location services or delving into your phone settings to make privacy updates means that once you’re in this camp, it can be tricky to get back out.

The Apples – keeping myself hidden (at least for now)

The alternative, at least for the moment and at least on the surface, is Apple. Facebook has also started to talk a big privacy game, but given its track record it can’t afford not to.

Apple has made a business decision to position data privacy as a USP. Safari makes data gathering almost impossible for third parties and FaceID doesn’t store or share your photo. The data doesn’t leave the brand’s ecosystem.

However, the trade-off is that users often experience less efficient and less joined-up services. It’s also the case that Apple’s data privacy currently comes at a hardware premium that not every consumer can pay. This is one of the key reasons that Google’s Android has gained such a foothold in emerging markets like Africa and South America.

That said, we have to ask how much is just lip service, as Apple seems still willing to do business with other companies that harvest and use personal data. There are also millions who use Google services on Apple products, further muddying the waters.

Which am I?

For most people – and it’s easy for those of us in the industry to forget this – knowledge of how much personal data is available to marketers is still largely non-existent. GDPR may not have caused much more than a ripple in the public consciousness, but it’s just the starting point in a journey. We may yet see growing numbers of internet users take a more active interest in their data ownership.

For now, we still mostly just press the ‘Accept Cookies’ button and move on with our lives. And if you look at the possible Homo Deus future, the amount of data we’re willing to give up may actually increase as long as we think we’re getting something worthwhile in exchange.

Insurers are already looking at how wearable tech can encourage lower premiums among those more willing to exercise. The value of our personal fitness data certainly hasn’t been lost on Alphabet, Google’s parent company, which has just put in a bid to buy Fitbit.

It’s also clear that Amazon will move into healthcare soon too, given recent hires and product developments, fuelled by its data on browsing and purchase behaviours.

Many of us already rely on online dating services to find our perfect match and no-one really bats an eyelid at Netflix’s algorithm-based viewing recommendations. However, we’re reaching a tipping point at which we will have to decide just how much data we’re willing to provide to keep getting those services we love.

The downside to this is that all those tiny decisions add up to a bigger picture of who and what we are. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has already shown that voting decisions can be predicted and then manipulated, at least to some extent.

So, when it comes down to it, are we going to be Googles or Apples? Somewhere in the middle, or the worst of both? Inevitably, it’ll be down to the type of product or service that we’re getting in exchange. But at the moment, most consumers are uncertain about whether they’ll have a say in this or not.

When that situation changes, and it will, we’ll have to revisit the debate.