Young people now spend at least 24 hours a week looking at screens.42 Many of the rest of us are also addicted.

But what this looks and feels like in reality is changing fast. Online culture is becoming more social, more virtual and more visual every day. The rapid rise of TikTok and Fortnite are just two examples of the quickly changing face of the online world. Things move so fast it can feel hard to keep up. But we’ve also seen a backlash against this constant acceleration, as links are increasingly made between too much screen time and offline wellbeing. Despite calls for a digital detox, 72% of Britons claim to post at least once a month on some type of social media platform43 and most say they can’t imagine life without the internet.44 It is no surprise then that what happens in these online spaces is becoming a big topic of conversation – for users, regulators and the platforms themselves.

What is now in play is the relationship between users, their data, and how social media platforms make money. Increasingly, people are waking up to the value exchange being made every time you visit a website or share a post on social media. But awareness of how this happens, where the data goes, and how you can limit it, remains low. Although this is key to the social media business model, only 21% of Britons say they’re willing to trade sharing their data for personalisation.45 More than half (57%) feel that they should be paid or rewarded in some other way.46

Does this mean the days of social media giants might be coming to an end? We doubt it. Although there is resistance to data exchange, the reality of switching off means many won’t take the plunge. We want the benefits of keeping connected with friends and family who may be dotted all over the world, as well as the constant free news and entertainment. But calls for change shouldn’t be ignored. Seventy-five per cent of online British adults think that consumers should be able to refuse companies the right to collect data about them. Demands centre on the need for greater transparency and control. People want to know they can genuinely opt out of sharing their data, or at least have a choice about whether they do so or not. Options should be easy to understand, using clear language to explain what is happening to data and how this relates to the service a user receives. Some 72% say they would feel more comfortable sharing their information if companies and brands were clear on how it would be used. But safeguarding data, and being trusted to do so, is also critical to achieving that kind of openness.47

Building these relationships will be key to maintaining loyalty in an increasingly competitive market. It will also reassure regulators that consumers are being protected from harm and are providing genuine consent for the use of their data, not just clicking ‘yes’ to get to a website. This is especially the case given nearly two-thirds of British adults are concerned about their online privacy and 75% say consumers should be able to refuse companies the right to use the data they gather about you.48

Right now, how organisations use our data is clear as mud. The opportunity is to build relationships by making it crystal clear. In 2020, expect more and more cries for greater regulation of the online world.