More than half of consumers will share personal data willingly if asked and data usage and protection measures are clearly defined, according to a survey from Bain & Company. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

Customers' trust cannot be bought by companies offering compensation in exchange for selling or sharing personal data. Instead, the only viable approach is to ask consumers in a clear, straightforward way.

Bain surveyed more than 900 US consumers and found that 91% of respondents do not want companies selling their data, even if they are compensated for it. People opposed to having their data used or shared-even when asked-are rarely swayed by offers of monetary compensation.

Moreover, the reluctance to trade their data for monetary compensation applies to all customers, no matter how active or sophisticated they are online.

The survey revealed that about 80% of respondents know their data is being used in one way or another and has become a type of 'currency' for companies seeking to better attract and retain customers. Yet they are often uncomfortable with how their data is used and shared. A full two-thirds feel that it should be illegal for companies to collect or use such data without getting prior consent.

Eric Almquist, a Bain partner in the firm's Customer Strategy & Marketing and Retail practices, said that in designing the survey, he and others expected to see that demographic characteristics such as age, income and education would play a big role in attitudes toward sharing data. They also expected more active or sophisticated online users to have different attitudes than laggards. "In fact," Almquist said, "the survey showed little variation in attitudes due to demographics or online sophistication".

Instead, consumer opinions vary according to the industry or sectors that could be using their data. Nearly 70% of respondents want to prevent any level of government or any financial institution from sharing their data. Only 43% have the same concerns with retailers and airlines. Utilities, search engines and communications providers land in the middle. The industry differences partly reflect longstanding loyalty programmes in retail and travel, as well as the nature of the data that different types of companies collect and store.

Consumers are most willing to share user-contributed social data, such as product reviews; for that data, 44% said it is fine to share without their explicit permission. But fewer than 20% want their purchase behaviour or demographic data shared without permission, while hardly anyone wants to see family/friend networks or financial or health information shared.

"Strategies to obtain customer permission for using data should vary by industry and the type of information being requested," concluded Rasmus Wegener, founder of Bain's Advanced Analytics Practice. "But open and transparent communication is a good place for any company to start."