The obvious reason Covidsafe failed to get majority takeup

Dan Richardson

Dan Richardson is an expert in translating data into a captivating narrative. As head of data, he is responsible for shaping Verizon Media A/NZ’s commercial data strategy, building new ad products and managing the company’s data portfolio. Working closely with brands, vendors and key agency partners, Dan holds invaluable experience in developing audience insights, segmentation, testing and implementation strategies. He's currently co-chair of the IAB Australia’s Data Council, leading the organisation’s data transparency initiatives, and serves on the IAB New Zealand Standards and Measurement Council. Dan has also served as a board director for the International Advertising Association and president of the IAA's Young Professionals.

Online identity is a hot topic as more consumers are waking up to how their data is being used. So what does the marketing industry need to do to avoid a complete loss of public trust, in instances such as the COVID-19 tracing app?  

Many have been left scratching their heads in the last few weeks, wondering why on earth every smartphone-toting adult hasn’t downloaded the government’s Covidsafe app. I’m not at all surprised they haven’t and the reason for it matters to every marketer out there.  

Launching in April with a big publicity campaign, Covidsafe should have been a slam dunk. Its promise was to help escape the coronavirus lockdown by tracing people who’d been in contact with Covid-19 carriers. The more people who download the app, the safer we’d all be was the theory.  

It shot out of the gates with 3 million downloads in the first weekend, but it took nearly six weeks to reach 6 million downloads and has stagnated since.  

A recent Verizon Media study on consumer attitudes towards data showed 88 per cent of consumers are willing to exchange their data for some form of relevant service, product or recommendation. Getting out of lockdown is something most people were desperate for. So why didn’t more people jump onto this no-brainer of a value exchange?  

The answer is complicated, but it comes down to two major factors: Education and trust.  

Australian consumers are guarded when it comes to intimate data such as private or sensitive information and conversations. Data concerning health is also tightly held, while location data is not something most people are willing to give away - an E-Marketer survey showed only 39 per cent of respondents would share location data in order to “keep their home or family safe”.  

Our research also showed a yawning gap in understanding around data – 38 per cent of consumers said they thought it was their job to take care of their own data protection. In case you’re unsure, it’s not, it is the responsibility of the developer.  

Former Cambridge Analytica employee turned data activist, Brittany Kaiser, summed up the problem in our recent Identity Decoded webinar, saying: “Most consumers don't really understand what their personal data is and how much information has been collected about them since they had their very first device”.

The lack of consumer data-savviness isn’t surprising. After all, the internet has been built on the implicit value exchange of free stuff in return for your personal information. The problem is, we forgot to tell anyone what was going on. It kinda got lost in the melee.  

It’s thanks to government regulation like GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California, as well as some heavily-publicised scandals, that people are starting to understand what has been going on and are becoming warier. Consumers are now savvy enough to be sceptical when someone directly asks them to hand over their data, even if it is their government promising to end draconian restrictions and allow them out of doors.  

It’s also these regulations, along with the impending Cookie Apocalypse and recently revealed App-Aggedon requiring users to opt in to everything, which makes this an existential problem for modern marketers. Put simply, if you don’t already, you’ll soon be forced to ask customers to hand over their information willingly.  

The current premise is that we can demonstrate to consumers that there is a good enough value exchange with your product or service to hand over their personal data or information. The stark reality is that, right now, this isn’t going to be enough.  

We’re in a weird no-man's land where consumers are savvy enough to know their data is valuable and is used for things they aren’t always comfortable with, but not knowledgeable enough to understand the ins and outs of it. And I can’t blame them for this last point, the way it all works is bloody complicated.  

The best marketers can expect at the moment is for people to either opt-in to share data, or not. Our focus has also been way too binary in nature. Great amounts of energy have been invested in processing consent, as required by regulators, but more limited focus has been placed on choices and preference settings. It’s very complex, and frankly baffling for consumers, to go through a tick-list of what they will and won’t share to just view a website.  

People say they are happy to hand over their data in exchange for more convenience, but when faced with the chance to exchange it for freedom of movement, they’ve been reluctant to comply.  

So what needs to happen? It’s simple - education. There’s a strong case to be made that kids should be taught about the basics of data literacy in school now, in the same way as we teach them other important life lessons. We’re already teaching them to code and analyse data with programs like Code Academy, it makes sense to add on a data privacy and security element too. For the rest of us there are already initiatives like the Own Your Data program looking to fill the gap. The point with it is though, it needs more support.  

As practitioners in a sophisticated marketing ecosystem which relies on an increasingly detailed view of customers, marketers should be focusing on the consumer’s data literacy. Unless there

is transparency and a firm understanding of how data is handled, consumers will continue to lack trust in the value exchange they’re being sold. More education and well-used data will set marketers up for success and have the potential to enhance consumers’ lives.

Tags: brand strategy, consumer trust, marketing strategy

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