Privacy Study Rates Danger of Personal Data

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A new privacy study by Brittain Associates, Atlanta, draws a road map for marketers pointing out wrong turns in the use of personal information that could alienate prospects.

When asked their opinions on the use of 41 pieces of personal information in direct marketing campaigns, the 850 consumers in the study presented responses arranged by four levels of unease: seven pieces of information were considered highly dangerous (labeled deadly by Brittain), seven dangerous (toxic), nine irritating and 18 harmless.

Seventeen percent of respondents said personal information was nobody's business and unacceptable for use in segmentation models that marketers use to identify and target prospects.

"Anything that consumers consider toxic or deadly can backfire on direct marketers," said company president Bruce Brittain. "Some [marketers], through ignorance or lack of ethics, will push the envelope."

As for specific examples, the exact balance of a mortgage is considered deadly, medical history toxic, race or ethnic background irritating and whether a consumer owns or rents his home harmless.

Brittain said that as modeling methods have become more sophisticated, consumers have become more aware of what information is being gathered and more bothered by the blatant use of that information in marketing messages. The study results are intended to help marketers design their pitches without using the harmful criteria.

"The great majority of people have no problem at all being targeted in ways that bring them products and services that are of interest to them," he said.

Pieces of information were viewed differently on gender, ethnic background and income level. Men, for example, considered clothing size harmless while some women were more adamant that such information should not be used.

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