Article

Data ethics and privacy

A global perspective on the use of private data

According to a recent Deloitte Canada survey, 90% of global consumers said they would sever ties with an organization if the company used their data unethically.

Organizations today are walking a tightrope when it comes to the collection and use of consumer data. On the one hand, consumers around the world are willing to share their private data because they expect organizations to use that data ethically. On the other hand, there is no universal definition on the “ethical use” of data—which means companies can unwittingly violate customer expectations. 

Those that do are in danger of customer loss. A recent Deloitte Canada survey found that 90% of global consumers would cut ties with an organization that used their data unethically. In essence, the cost of a privacy breach can be measured in the cost of customer acquisition—which can range from five to 25 times more than retaining an existing customer.

Notably, simply adhering to privacy regulations is not enough to meet consumer expectations around the ethical use of data. Because expectations of privacy shift fluidly depending on cultural norms, an action that may cause a customer in one country to shrug with indifference may cause another to vote with their feet. 

This means companies often find themselves navigating grey zones—areas that are legal from a data privacy perspective but could be interpreted as ethically questionable by customers. To avoid missteps, companies need a clearer understanding of the cultural nuances that influence their customers’ ethical norms. 

To better understand this ethical threshold—and the potential for breaching it—Deloitte Canada conducted a survey of approximately 6,000 individuals across six different countries. Here are some key findings:

  • 53% of consumers are not very familiar with regulations surrounding data privacy, and 20% are not familiar at all
  • 80% of consumers believe organizations have an ethical responsibility with respect to the data they collect from the public
  • Canadians inherently trust healthcare organizations (79%), insurance companies (69%) and banks (80%) to uphold their ethical obligations
  • Ethical standards loosen when consumers are offered financial gain in exchange for their personal data—such as free coupons or discounts
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