National Survey Finds Few Americans Willing to Pay for Privacy

January 16, 2019

WASHINGTON — While many Americans say they would prefer online services to collect less of their personal data, a new national survey from the Center for Data Innovation finds that few Americans would be willing to pay for online services that are currently free or lose access to services they use now. Given the tradeoff, just one in four Americans would be willing to pay a monthly subscription fee for otherwise free services.

The survey found that, when no potential tradeoffs were presented, approximately 80 percent of Americans said they would like online services to collect less of their data. However, that support eroded when respondents considered potential consequences. Support dropped by 53 percentage points when respondents were asked whether they would like online services to collect less data even if it would mean paying a monthly subscription fee. Support dropped by 27 percentage points if it would mean seeing more ads, and it dropped by 26 percentage points if it would mean losing access to features they currently use.

“Limiting personal data collection would require tradeoffs,” said the Center’s director, Daniel Castro. “Overly restrictive privacy legislation would likely increase compliance costs and reduce companies’ revenues, which could force ad-supported business models to start charging for subscriptions and paid services to raise their prices. This survey makes clear that consumers do not want to pay that price for privacy, so policymakers should tread carefully to avoid unintended consequences that leave consumers worse off.”

The Center’s findings come from a national online poll of 3,240 U.S. adult Internet users between December 13, 2018 and December 16, 2018.

The survey also gauged Americans’ willingness to have online services collect more data in exchange for various benefits. It found that, when such potential benefits were not questioned, approximately 74 percent of Americans opposed having online services collect more of their data. But that opposition decreased by 18 percentage points when respondents were asked whether collecting more of their data would mean getting more free apps and services. It dropped by 17 percentage points both when it would mean seeing fewer ads than before and getting access to new features they would use, and it dropped by 11 percentage points when it would mean seeing ads that are more useful.

“Whether it means free or lower-cost services or access to new and better features, consumer see the benefit of choosing to share data,” said Castro. “Sharing less data would reduce the services consumers have available to them, decrease the quality of services they enjoy, and limit the innovation that makes creating and improving these services possible.”

Read the survey results.