Americans Willing to Share Sensitive Biometric, Location, and Medical Data for Benefits, National Survey Finds

January 22, 2019

WASHINGTON — When considering trade-offs between privacy and other benefits, most Americans would be willing to allow third parties to collect at least some sensitive personal data, according to a national survey from the Center for Data Innovation. Overall, nearly 6 in 10 respondents (58 percent) said they were willing to let a third party collect at least one type of sensitive personal data, such as biometric, location, or medical data, in exchange for a service or benefit such as an easier way to sign into an account or getting free navigational help.

“Consumers have widely varying privacy preferences, even when it comes to their most sensitive data,” said the Center’s director, Daniel Castro. “An important takeaway for policymakers is that one-size-fits-all privacy rules will not work for most Americans. The primary goal of privacy legislation should be to ensure consumers can make an informed choice about whether and how they share their data.”

When potential trade-offs were not presented, the survey found that 70 percent of Americans would not allow a mobile app to collect their biometric data. But opposition dropped by 19.6 percentage points when respondents were asked whether they would allow biometric data to be collected if it would make their accounts more secure against hackers.

The survey also found that, in the absence of potential tradeoffs, approximately 59 percent of Americans would not allow a mobile app to collect their location data. But opposition dropped by 9.2 percentage points when sharing their location data would give them free traffic and navigational information.

Further, the survey found that when they aren’t asked to consider potential trade-offs approximately 61 percent of Americans would not allow medical researchers to collect sensitive data about their health. But opposition dropped by 17.6 percentage points if sharing could lead to new cures or treatments for respondents’ families or others.

“Notably, many mobile apps and medical researchers often de-identify data after they collect it. Since anonymized data has little privacy impact on individuals, this suggests that for many applications, the willingness of consumers to share data will be even higher,” said Castro. “Regulations should not limit consumers from easily sharing data when they want to do so.”

The Center’s findings come from a national online poll of 3,221 U.S. adult Internet users between December 19, 2018 and December 22, 2018.

Read the survey results.