Scandinavians value getting the full online experience, but what is their privacy worth in this context? In Scandinavia, we see a growing trend among consumers towards a preference for a tailored online experience with ads based on their user data.

With increasing awareness of data privacy issues and data regulation, more people are limiting the use of their personal data. The frequent questions about consent to cookie policies cannot have passed unnoticed to any smartphone user. Despite this, we see a somewhat conflicting trend towards preferring an optimal online experience based on behaviour and personal data. Are we annoyed by irrelevant ads or are we interested in seeing recommended content?

A quarter of survey respondents prefer tailored ads

In our 2021 Digital Consumer Trends survey, 94% of respondents have access to a smartphone. This generates a great amount of personal data and endless opportunities for targeted advertising. It is a well-established fact that use of the internet by consumers is built around advertising in all its forms. When asked about the ads they see on the internet and social media, and to what extent they prefer these to be tailored to their interests or online search history, many respondents replied that they approve of customised content. 25% of respondents said that they prefer tailored ads, 8% strongly prefer their ads to be tailored, 33% have no preference, and 32% oppose tailored advertising.

Differences in ad preferences depend on nationality and age

In Scandinavia, Norway has the most positive attitude to tailored ads, with 29% preferring them, compared to 26% in Sweden and 21% in Denmark. Most Scandinavian users who want tailored ads “slightly prefer them to be tailored”, while the majority of those users not wanting tailored ads “strongly prefer them not to be tailored”.

The increasing acceptance of tailored ads is most visible among the younger age groups. Among 18- to 44-year olds, around 30% prefer tailored ads, with approximately the same percentages of respondents having no preference or preferring them not to be tailored.

Acceptance decreases with age, and 65- to 75-year olds are the least fond of tailored ads, with 37% preferring their ads not to be tailored, although 30% of have no preference. Interestingly, men of all ages are much less fond of tailored ads than women: 27% of men strongly prefer ads not to be tailored, compared to only 21% of women.

Preference for tailored ads

The majority still accept default cookies on websites most of the time

According to the survey, 60% of respondents accept default cookies more than half the time, and a half of these always accept them. 55- to 64-year olds tend to accept all default cookies more frequently than other age groups. Denmark is the country most concerned about data privacy, as only 23% of Danes “always accept default cookies” compared to 25% in Norway and 38% in Sweden.

Acceptance of default cookies in Scandinavia

Actions to limit permission for apps to access user data

Despite the growing interest in tailored ads, we see users trying to limit access to their privacy by restricting permission to apps to access personal content, location, photos, etc. In Scandinavia, 18% of survey respondents “always” refuse app permissions, and 24% refuse them “more than half the time”.

Refusal of app permission in 2021

In Denmark, 24% of respondents always refuse app permissions, compared to 14% in Norway and 16% in Sweden. The combined average for all three countries is 18%. Men tend to restrict app permissions more often than women, with 44% of men refusing app permissions always or more than half the time. The corresponding number for women is 39%.

Additionally, there is significant correlation between refused app permissions and age. Among 18- to 24-year olds, only 9% always refuse app permissions. However, the percentage number increases with age, and for the 65- to 75-year olds, the number is 28%.

Apple has recently implemented a new privacy setting (ATT) in iOS 14.5, in which users located in the European Union must grant apps explicit access to track their behaviour. The ATT setting gives consumers a choice to guard their privacy and minimise the stream of user data otherwise obtained by companies working in digital advertising or app development. And user privacy restrictions are currently being developed on other platforms. This development is likely to become a challenge for several business models, as it may lead to targeted ads becoming less relevant to users.

Concerns for data privacy have caused some consumers to leave social media

In Deloitte’s 2019 Global Mobile Consumer survey, respondents were asked about their awareness of how their personal data were being used online. The report concluded that there is still room for improving consumers’ general awareness of data privacy in Scandinavia.

However, it is evident from our 2021 Digital Consumer Trends survey that awareness has continued to spread. The survey shows that 24% of respondents have stopped using one or more social media platforms during the past 12 months. In addition, 18% of respondents who had stopped using a service listed concerns about data privacy as one of the reasons for leaving, and 15% said it was due to not knowing how other people used their data. This concern about data privacy applies to all ages, highlighting a general awareness in the population.

Stopped using social media for data privacy reasons

For the first time in several years, the daily use of social media on mobile phones is declining. After increasing slightly every year from 2018 to 2020, daily use declined from 65% in 2020 to 58% in 2021. Whether this decline is a sign of Scandinavians moving away from social media because of privacy concerns must be considered an unanswered question.

Will concerns for data privacy continue to increase and lead to a shift in how companies gather user data?

In conclusion, the survey indicates that people are aware of and concerned about the use of their personal data. With global high-profile legal rulings like Schrems II (regulating the transfer of user data from the European Union to the United States) and Apple’s new privacy setting, it may be assumed that this matter will continue to draw attention. But how will public opinion develop in the future? Individuals may continue to guard their user data and their right to privacy. On the other hand, will users be willing to go back to less relevant generic advertising once they have seen the benefits of tailored online ads?

Key takeaway

The trends that we see in concerns for data privacy and in our online habits seem incongruous. On the one hand, consumers continue to care about their privacy. But on the other hand, users are also setting aside their concerns in order to benefit from an optimal internet experience.

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