Study: Germans would sell passwords for a few thousand

In principle, German consumers attach great importance to data protection. At the same time, however, many are also willing to sell some sensitive personal information for relatively small sums of money. This emerges from the results of a six-part series of studies on data sharing that the Institute for Customer Insight (ICI) at the University of St. Gallen carried out between autumn 2019 and summer 2020 on behalf of TÜV Rheinland.

The researchers continued as part of their investigations to an online survey, additional qualitative interviews and experiments in the laboratory and on the Internet. As a central result, they state: It is true that local consumers attach great importance to data protection. In the online survey with 500 participants, the basic right landed on a scale from 1 to 7 with a high value of 6.17.

On the other hand, more than 80 percent of those surveyed are aware that data from the networked products they use, such as smartphones or intelligent refrigerators, are transmitted to manufacturers, among others. When asked about the value of their data, the participants would also share personal data from their smart device with the producer for just ten euros per month.

According to the partners, all study forms show that consumers, when it comes to their willingness to pass on data to certain groups of third parties, distinguish between the types and categories of measured values. The tendency towards passwords and login IDs is particularly low – but still present. On the other hand, the participants would have significantly fewer concerns about data on the usage behavior of media and apps.

In the laboratory experiment, the scientists hooked up with financial bait. The number of participants was manageable at 76. Of these, 65 percent said they wanted to sell their connection data for 150 euros a year. 90 percent of the “wireless connections” they use, for example via WLAN, are also only worth this relatively small sum.

44 percent of the test persons were willing to sell media files such as photos and videos for 1,000 euros a year. 29 percent would call the same price for content data in the form of messages that they have sent via e-mail or messenger. 30 percent even wanted to sell passwords and login data for 3500 euros a year.

ICI director Andreas Herrmann sees the contradicting behavior as a clear reference to the “privacy paradox”. By this science understands the knowledge that people share personal information, although at the same time they are very concerned about their privacy. According to the professor, this is also indicated by the finding that more than a third of the vehicle owners surveyed (35.6 percent) do not see their car as a “connected car”, even though almost all vehicle models have been exchanging data for many years. According to Herrmann, a trustee model could help consumers better understand the value of their personal data and “also be appropriately involved in its use”.


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