Anxious Consumers Exposed Online are Willing to Undergo 'Digital Detox'

"Digital DNA" survey shows consumer concerns about sharing information online, suggesting need for companies to prioritize cyber security and educate consumers.

As internet and social media usage explodes around the world, and as the Internet of Things connects more and more devices and sensors, more and more data is collected. At the same time, numerous large-scale and/or high profile hacking incidents, as well as the theft of retail data, are a warning that, for all the benefits that consumers enjoy from digital devices, there is a potential downside to this interconnectedness for both individuals and organizations.

And consumers are well aware of this downside, according to a survey that explores the public’s digital behavior and attitudes to technology (a survey of 1,560 consumers in the United Kingdom was carried out by Innofact in October 2016, on behalf of Oliver Wyman). More than a third (37 percent) say they are willing to take themselves “off the grid” to protect their privacy. Nearly half (45 percent) are worried about sharing their personal information online. Yet nearly one third (32 percent) feel obliged to do so in order to navigate modern life.

More than half (54 percent) say that they couldn’t live without the internet for more than a day and 12 percent for more than an hour—yet many are ready for a “digital detox.” Surprisingly, overwhelmed Millennials claim they are most in need of a digital detox, with nearly a third (31 percent) of 18–34 year olds actively seeking opportunities to go “dark,” compared to only 20 percent of those aged 35–54 and 14 percent of those aged 55-74.

Businesses clearly need to do more to protect private data and educate consumers on what the data they collect is being used for. Financial institutions are the most trusted with personal information (only 11 percent don’t trust them) and technology companies (e-commerce sites and search engines) are the least trusted (37 percent don’t trust them).

Healthcare providers or insurers (13 percent don’t trust them), and car or home insurers (17 percent don’t trust them) are relatively well trusted. Supermarkets or grocers (31 percent don’t trust them) and mobile-phone operators (27 percent don’t trust them) are less trusted.

It appears that digital addiction runs deep, as do digital fears about privacy, at least in the UK, but it is a likely proxy for the rest of the EU and North America. For consumers to embrace a digital future without fear and anxiety, companies across all sectors need to prioritize cyber security, be more vocal assuring the public that protections are in place, and better explain what consumer data is being collected and how it is being used.