"The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers Are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploitation." Annenberg School for Communication, 2015.

Blue Skies Paper Cover UPenn ASC Annenberg School for Communication University of Pennsylvania
Type: 
Report
Author(s): 
Joseph Turow, Michael Hennessy, and Nora Draper

New Annenberg survey results indicate that marketers are misrepresenting a large majority of Americans by claiming that Americans give out information about themselves as a tradeoff for benefits they receive. To the contrary, the survey reveals most Americans do not believe that ‘data for discounts’ is a square deal.

The findings also suggest, in contrast to other academics’ claims, that Americans’ willingness to provide personal information to marketers cannot be explained by the public’s poor knowledge of the ins and outs of digital commerce. In fact, people who know more about ways marketers can use their personal information are more likely rather than less likely to accept discounts in exchange for data when presented with a real-life scenario.

The findings, instead, support a new explanation: a majority of Americans are resigned to giving up their data—and that is why many appear to be engaging in tradeoffs. Resignation occurs when a person believes an undesirable outcome is inevitable and feels powerless to stop it. Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them. The study reveals that more than half do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened.