Millennials and trust: hoarding data is "grabby", says Adjust Your Set CEO Chris Gorell Barnes
Millennials and trust: hoarding data is "grabby", says Adjust Your Set CEO Chris Gorell Barnes
A view from Chris Gorell Barnes

Stop abusing millennials' data and hand back control, if you want to restore trust

Ah, millennials. The deliciously reckless group that gives away their data for free and willingly sacrifices their privacy through spontaneous posts about kooky antics. Or so the out-dated cliché goes. In fact, the true picture is very different, writes Chris Gorell Barnes, CEO and founder of Adjust Your Set.

Adjust Your Set's second Youth State report examines the ‘digital wellbeing’ of 16 to 24-year-olds by updating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with a digital twist.

As well as finding out how social media impacts self-esteem and how much this age group appreciates high-quality branded content, the survey also revealed unexpected stats when it comes to millennials’ attitude to data.

Whether it’s creating a profile or logging in with personal details, over half of 16 to 24-year-olds feel irritated and cornered by brands’ seemingly unending requests for data.

The report also busts the myth that youngsters don’t care where and when they publish their data.

Marketers who naively think this age group freely reveal personal details online with no second thoughts for the consequences are in for a shock.

In a list of 16 possible data reveals ranging from ‘pictures of my home’ to ‘information about my preferences’, only two – ‘pictures of friends who are on social media’ and ‘pictures of my hobbies/interests’ – were just about considered acceptable for public consumption.

Younger consumers are inherently suspicious of brands

So millennials are more resentful and wary of relinquishing their data than most of us think. This is the fallout of a constant barrage of irritating and interruptive brand comms. And it’s created a sad situation where the future generation is now inherently suspicious of brands asking for data.

A crucial part of people’s ‘digital wellbeing’ comes from having control over their personal data. But these young adults mostly think brands are abusing their data.

One Youth State respondent fumed about sharing his email address for free Wi-Fi, only to have his data thrown back in his face as endless weeks of spam. Using data to spam and retarget incessantly is irresponsible, short-sighted and damaging.

On the plus side, millennials are ‘Digital Realists’: they recognise the negatives of being online but also the positives.

They understand the implicit value exchange where sharing data reaps rewards like enhanced personalisation and free content. But this ‘digital realism’ doesn’t mean brands are off the hook when it comes to transparency and honesty about how and why data is being collected and used.

Harvesting data and then irritating people with it does nothing but create a cold war between brand and consumer; a cold war where savvy millennials stay one step ahead with fake email addresses and ad blockers.

Instead of taking part in this futile and draining battle, let’s breakdown the hostilities. But how? It’s surprisingly straightforward. Just be utterly clear about why you’re harnessing the data and then use it responsibly.

So if a music streaming service wants to track how fast someone runs to match a song to their pace, they simply need to honest about it.  It’s as easy as incorporating a concise, one-liner that relays upfront the data request’s good intentions.

But all too often the disclosure is hidden in dense and incomprehensible terms and conditions that are drowning in jargon. And it’s this type of ‘sneaky’ attitude that makes young adults feel resentful, protective and suspicious.

As digital realists, millennials know there’s no such thing as a free lunch. They accept that juicy rewards, like useful branded content and personalisation, involve a data sacrifice.

But hoarding data just in case it might be useful in the future is seen as grabby and ugly; a counterproductive move that leaves this age group feeling they’re losing control of their digital experience.  

According to Dell, a whopping 90% of data is unused past its creation. This greedy approach is tainting legitimate requests and jeopardising the otherwise healthy brand-consumer relationship. The only way to heal the rift and ensure strong digital wellbeing for all is to herald a new era of transparency and reward data donors with something more useful than spam.