A new survey of 1,000 U.S. adults discovered both concern and ignorance regarding online privacy and personal data protection. Conducted by Tealium, the survey found 97% of respondents are somewhat or very concerned about protecting their personal data.

Not paying close attention. By the same token, most consumers (62%) generally don’t read online terms or privacy policies. And nearly 70% of respondents had not heard of GDPR or CCPA. The 38% who say they do read online privacy policies is likely an “aspirational” finding, meaning many people are stating they read online terms when they in fact do not.

(Related: Think CCPA doesn’t apply to you? Think again.)

There were a number of other, seemingly contradictory data points in the survey, indicating consumer confusion or ambivalence about privacy.

Seeking strict privacy regulations, but open to deals. For example, 91% said they wanted government to “adopt strict regulations” to protect their data. However, 59% believed businesses were currently doing a “good job” handling their data; and 71% of people said total control over personal data isn’t possible. In addition, 43% said they would provide “detailed data about themselves to a retailer for a discount.”

These numbers, and similar data from other surveys, suggest that consumer privacy decision-making is highly contextual and situational. In other words, consumers are concerned about privacy in the abstract but will sacrifice it and make different choices based on the immediate context in front of them. That could be seen either as rational or arbitrary, depending on your perspective.

Making privacy easier to understand. The Tealium report contains lots of practical advice for brands and retailers about how to address privacy, as well as gain and maintain consumer trust. Accordingly the report says that nearly three-fourths (72%) of consumers would read privacy policies if they were shorter; 61% would read them if they were more “straightforward.” And 45% wanted to see examples of how their personal data was being used by brands.

Why we should care. The Tealium survey shows strong concern but also confusion about privacy. However, an earlier BritePool survey found that 87% of respondents would select a “Do Not Sell My Data” option if they encountered it on a website. When CCPA comes into effect in less than a month, we can assume lots of people will pursue it.

While this won’t affect first party data collection and use, publishers and brands still need to forcefully address privacy to build consumer trust and confidence. That will turn out to be a competitive advantage going forward.

More about CCPA and consumer privacy regulation

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.