The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploitation

24 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2016

See all articles by Joseph Turow

Joseph Turow

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication

Michael Hennessy

Annenberg Public Policy Center

Nora Draper

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication

Date Written: June 26, 2015

Abstract

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.Our 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 ndesirable 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. Our 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.

By misrepresenting the American people and championing the tradeoff argument, marketers give policymakers false justifications for allowing the collection and use of all kinds of consumer data often in ways that the public find objectionable. Moreover, the futility we found, combined with a broad public fear about what companies can do with the data, portends serious difficulties not just for individuals but also — over time — for the institution of consumer commerce.

Keywords: Privacy, Surveillance, Marketing, Advertising, Resignation, Surveys

Suggested Citation

Turow, Joseph and Hennessy, Michael and Draper, Nora, The Tradeoff Fallacy: How Marketers are Misrepresenting American Consumers and Opening Them Up to Exploitation (June 26, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2820060 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2820060

Joseph Turow (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication ( email )

3620 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215 898 5842 (Phone)

Michael Hennessy

Annenberg Public Policy Center ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/StaffList.aspx

Nora Draper

University of Pennsylvania - Annenberg School for Communication ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States

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