Don’t Downplay Your Members’ Data Privacy Concerns

More than four-fifths of Americans surveyed by Pew said the risks of corporate data use weren’t worth the benefits. It’s an issue that associations should tread carefully on.

Data collection may be a fact of life for many Americans, but it doesn’t mean they have to like it.

And the fact that they don’t might be just enough to give you pause.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that more than 60 percent of people felt that it was not possible to go through life without being tracked by either corporations (62 percent) or the government (63 percent). Despite knowing that such privacy considerations come with the territory, many Americans are uncomfortable with it. A full 81 percent say they have no control over what companies collect, and an equivalent number says that the risks outweigh the benefits of such data collection, which is rampant on sites such as Facebook and Google.

“Americans’ concerns about digital privacy extend to those who collect, store, and use their personal information,” the report’s authors write. “Additionally, majorities of the public are not confident that corporations are good stewards of the data they collect.”

While government data collection raises similar concerns, Americans tend to be more accepting of those risks, with a third of respondents saying the benefits outweigh the risks in that case.

For associations, this state of affairs creates a number of questions, both for how they organize their membership and how they use data. Recent laws and policies such as the General Data Protection Regulation emphasize the need for groups to take the use and storage of data seriously, and they reflect the potential blowback that members could have in the case of a data breach.

But it also shows a place where associations can make their voices known in a big way. Last year, a number of library groups won positive nods after standing up against a policy from the social network LinkedIn, which was requiring users to log in to its learning platform rather than using an anonymized library card number to take online courses.

And there are cases in which data use may even be allowed or desired—the Pew study cites an example in which poorly performing schools share student data with a nonprofit looking to improve educational outcomes, which more survey respondents supported than opposed.

But there are concerns among members that associations may not take the data issue seriously enough—something underlined in a Community Brands study from last year.

“Members view data privacy and security as a top concern for both today and ahead, but there is currently a disconnect with association professionals who are underestimating members’ concerns,” the firm said at the time of the study’s release.

To put this all another way: Don’t underplay the issue of consumer data privacy, because much of the public isn’t doing that right now.

(SinArtCreative/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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