Consumers seek transparency

Editor’s note: Todd Fellerman is chief commercial officer at consumer research company Attest.

The tide is turning on consumer privacy in the United States. With New Jersey’s governor signing a hard-fought data privacy law in January, there are now 14 states with fully operative (or soon-to-be operative) data privacy statutes. Meanwhile, Maine lawmakers are debating legislation that could give the state the strongest data privacy law in the nation if the bill passes.

Big Tech, which has for a long time fought any laws to protect consumers’ personal information, would like to see these bills watered down. But a growing public outcry is spurring governors on to take a hard line. Consumers have simply had enough of data breaches, scandals and intrusive advertising. And despite Google putting the third-party cookie into its death throes this year, it could be a case of too little too late. Consumer trust is rock bottom. 

Attest’s latest research finds that more than 84% of people are concerned about data privacy when interacting with brands online. And it’s not just older consumers; even Gen Z digital natives (aged 18-25) feel strongly about privacy (82.7% are concerned about it). This concern is changing how consumers behave online. 

Rebuilding consumer trust

Because consumers don’t trust websites to protect their data it has eroded what they’re willing to share with them. Nearly a third of Americans say they will not give permissions for cookies when asked by a website, and 58% habitually opt out of being added to a company’s mailing list.

As companies begin to rely more heavily on owned data (following the withdrawal of third-party cookies), it will be vital to start to rebuild this trust. Especially since the spread of data privacy statutes is increasingly compelling website owners to seek permission to use first-party cookies. If visitors don’t opt in, then marketers lose access to heaps of valuable data that provides insight into on-site behavior (as well as the ability to target visitors with personalized content and offers).

Likelihood to opt-in depends on how much a consumer trusts a website. More than 36% of respondents say they decline cookies because they don’t trust the website or the brand with their data. Meanwhile, 36.6% opt out of cookies because they don't want to be targeted with advertising. Social media sites in particular seem to have a bad reputation, with 47% of Americans likely to deny cookies.

The surprising power of transparency

Seeing the scale of distrust among American consumers, we wanted to investigate if it would make a difference if brands changed up the way they seek to collect data. If they used so-called “zero-party data” collection methods (such as consumer surveys), where information is explicitly requested, would consumers be more open to sharing?

The findings were hugely encouraging for marketers – nearly half of consumers would trust a brand more with their data if it was collected transparently via zero-party data collection methods. And when a consumer trusts a brand with their data it has a lot of knock-on benefits; nearly 58% of consumers would feel more at ease using the brand’s website, and 53.4% would feel more at ease interacting with the brand on social media. 

It even makes consumers more likely to subscribe to a brand’s mailing list. Nearly 50% of Americans say they’d be more likely to sign up for email marketing, showing how consumer trust trickles down into greater openness to advertising.

Consumers’ preference for surveys

Consumers have clear preferences when it comes to sharing their data. They want to do it in an intentional way, and consumer surveys top the list of their preferred data collection methods. Nearly 48% of Americans would opt to share their data with brands via interactive surveys. In comparison, only 18.8% prefer cookies and 18.4% favor social media monitoring. 

Marketers can capitalize on the positive sentiment around consumer surveys because they arguably allow them to collect the broadest and richest data sets. Whereas cookies can tell you the “what” (which sites someone visited and what they clicked on), surveys tell you the “why.” You can uncover deep insights into consumer behavior and use it to create digital advertising that actually resonates. 

Not only can brands use zero-party data to fill the gap left by third-party cookies, but they can also use it to make their marketing even more effective than it was before. Making the shift to zero-party data now will help set brands up for success as we move away from cookies and into an era of interest-based targeting. Ultimately, we’re looking at a brighter future for consumers and marketers alike.


All figures within this article are taken from research conducted on the Attest platform. The total sample size for ‘The zero-party data revolution’ report was 1,500 nationally representative working-age consumers based in the United States. The surveys were conducted during December 2023 and can be viewed here and here