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People care more about convenience than privacy online

(Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

Are you willing to give up privacy for convenience? For most people, the answer is yes, according to a recent survey from Gigya. The company, which allows consumers to use their Facebook or Twitter log-ins to sign in to a wide range of Web sites, found that users fear the worst when it comes to the privacy of their data but still are willing to put convenience above those concerns.

The finding may not be particularly surprising to anyone who have ever sat at their computer and racked their brain for yet another password. But it does show that while many Internet users really, really don't trust their social networks, they're still willing to use the log-ins from those sites.

The survey, which polled 4,000 respondents in the United States and Britain on their thoughts about data privacy, found that 60 percent of Internet users opt to use their Facebook, Twitter or Google account credentials to log in to other sites — even though most users fear those companies aren't being careful with their data.  Of those surveyed, more than 46 percent of users think that sites using social log-ins will sell their data. Nearly 42 percent think sites or apps will post on users' social media accounts without permission, and 40 percent say they worry that these companies will "spam" their social network friends.

It should be said here that most social networks — notably Facebook — don't actually allow companies to do most of the things that consumers say they worry about. Even if you use a social network log-in to sign in to a third-party Web site, that third-party site still has to inform you about how it is using your personal data.

That doesn't mean that Internet users aren't thinking about privacy. Patrick Salyer, Gigya's chief executive, said Web sites and mobile apps that are upfront about how they use data, for example, in the set-up screen, tend to see a higher adoption of social log-ins than those that don't.

"Third-party authentication is what customers want for convenience," Salyer said. "And they told us with this survey that they would like to have more clarity on what's happening with their data."

That means that there's a big opportunity for companies that want to provide log-in services — a move that gives them a glimpse into consumer habits — by emphasizing their privacy and security chops. Already, Salyer said, consumers tend to be more trusting of non-social companies such as PayPal or Amazon  rather than Google or Facebook.

Apple, which recently announced a payment service called ApplePay, has a big advantage here, Salyer said. Users trust it, and the tech giant has the bonus of being able to use its hardware to provide extra authentication through the fingerprint reader on the iPhone.

So far, Salyer said, Apple has done a good job explaining how the payment process works, but it could extend its reach beyond the register and into the online world by allowing the use of the Apple ID as a log-in service.

"They've been clear and talked about the tight control they have around data," he said. "There's a lot of miscommunication and confusion around data. People  want more clarity. If Apple can start there, it's a great place to start."