#learnings from our Data Awareness Campaign – Would you like a free coffee?

  • Bildung
  • Kantonal

Imagine yourself, walking through the city on a cloudy afternoon. You see a coffee truck in front of you. “Would you like a free coffee?” a woman unexpectedly asks. You nod and say yes, already having the smell of coffee in your nose. “Great, I just need you to share some of your personal data with me”, the woman casually adds. You stare at her and hesitate.

We asked this question at 11 locations in German-speaking Switzerland. The question and the free coffee are part of an awareness campaign called Data Café, which promotes a reflective understanding of the value of data in our society.

A deal most of us make online every day was brought to the streets -by using Google search, Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp, we “pay” for the  “free” services with our personal data. Unlike on the Internet, where you can use many services in exchange for personal data, at the Data Café, you get a coffee if you are willing to share your data:  first name, last name, gender, e-mail, date of birth, and canton. You can get a feeling for our campaign in this video, but continue reading to learn about our discoveries during the journey through Switzerland.

Anger, indifference & interest – a wide range of reactions

The reactions to our offer were diverse. A few were angry and ran off so quickly that we could not even explain the motivation of our offer nor ask them whether they used any free digital services. Some weren’t bothered by the deal at all, even if we tried our best to cause discomfort with critical questions like “Do you even know what we’ll do with your data?”. They just wanted to enjoy their free coffee. Most were interested in the offer, but critical. They asked: What will happen to my data?

One page of T&Cs is still too long

The coffee lovers could read our terms and conditions (T&C) on the back of the menu. However, most people were too lazy to read our T&Cs, although they were only one page long. Some people asked us to provide a summary:

  • The collected data is saved anonymously on servers of the University of Zurich. 
  • The participants receive one email with a request to participate in an online survey.
  • The data of the survey are collected through Qualtrics LLC, a firm located in Utah, and are deleted at the end of this project.
  • In addition to the data participants provide as payment, information about IP address, location and the device used will be stored. 

What do you think? Are you still interested in that free coffee?

35% of Data Café visitors are willing to pay with their data

We heard many reasons why someone wouldn’t share data for a coffee, from lazy excuses to serious privacy concerns, to contradictory answers such as not wanting to share data on the street at the data cafe, but simultaneously admitting  that they share much more data online without thinking twice.

Among the people we asked if they would like to have coffee, around 35 percent accepted the offer and enjoyed a coffee paid for with their personal data. When asked about the motives for revealing their data, many argued that their data is already available online, that they personally have nothing to hide or that they trust us. Are they aware of the potential misuse of personal data?

What about you? Do you belong to the group of people who would have accepted our offer and drank free coffee? 

Learn how to understand, protect and use data

Regardless of whether someone has shared their data, we have encouraged people to visit our website, where we have summarized several tips on protecting, understanding, and using personal data. 

For those who were interested in improving  their knowledge about data, we handed out the magazine “Wert von Daten” published by the Foundation Mercator. The magazine explores the topic through conversations with various experts taking on different perspectives.

Interesting and fun facts from survey

To gain further insight, we sent a survey to each person who shared their data.

The majority of people who had a coffee at the Data Café were between 18 and 34 years old, followed by people aged between 35 and 50. We found that 56% of respondents say it’s time to have a deeper debate about data and privacy. In response to the question about why we pay for so many services with our data, 69% say that we are not aware of it whereas 9% think that we do not pay for much with our data.

Thanks to the Data Café, we were able to talk to many different people about the value of data and the dangers of sharing them carelessly. We were able to reach an audience that normally does not discuss the topic of data security or data usage. Besides the decision of whether or not to get a free coffee, people had many questions about our data in general.

To name just a few: 

  • Why is it important to protect my data? Everyone has my data already anyways. 
  • How do companies earn money with my personal data? 
  • Are there alternatives to… Google, WhatsApp, Facebook? 
  • Should I stop using Facebook?

What’s next

For next year we plan on further developing our campaign and continuing in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Thereby we hope to further improve our approach, deepen our understanding of the behavior of people towards data and finally to publish a Data Café handbook. 

This initiative is implemented by the non-profit association Opendata.ch and enabled by the Mercator Foundation Switzerland.