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Americans Resigned to Giving Up Personal Data, Study Finds

Marketers have said for years that Americans give up their data online, on apps and in stores because of the benefits they receive, such as discounts or special offers. But a new national survey by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and Annenberg Public Policy Center rebuts this claim and offers a new explanation: resignation.

It finds that most Americans disclose their personal data to companies for discounts because they believe that marketers will harvest the data anyway.

“Resignation occurs when a person believes an undesirable outcome is inevitable and feels powerless to stop it,” said Joseph Turow, professor of communication at the Annenberg School and lead author of the study. His co-authors were Michael Hennessy, senior research scientist at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Nora Draper, an assistant professor of communication at the University of New Hampshire.

The survey found that more than half of Americans say they do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened. Turow argues that marketers misrepresent Americans’ behaviors by categorizing their acceptance of company discounts in exchange for personal data as rational acceptance of “tradeoffs.”

The report, “The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers Are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploitation,” also found that Americans’ willingness to provide personal information to marketers can’t be explained by the public’s poor knowledge of the ins and outs of digital commerce.

For the full news release on this study, click here. The study is available at the Annenberg School for Communication website here.