Discussion Papers

No. 431: Data collection and usage by OTT services: Implications for data and consumer protection

Autoren: Johanna Bott, Christian Hildebrandt, René Arnold

(full version only available in German)


The extensive use of personal data by Over The Top (OTT) services has been receiving significant attention in the public debate. The purposes for which this data is used vary. Personal data can be used to improve the quality of an OTT service, to target advertising or for recommender systems. In particular the latter two are often the subject of criticism.

Actual consumer behavior eludes typical criticisms of OTT services’ data use. Consumers often give away their personal data without much thought in order to use an OTT service. On the other hand, they usually state in surveys that they place a particularly high value on their privacy and the protection of their personal data. This behavior is commonly known as the "privacy paradox".

While this paradox has already been researched quite extensively, without necessarily coming any closer to a real solution, there is a lack of further understanding of consumers' attitudes towards the use of their personal data depending on the service they are using. The present discussion paper is among the first to explore such differences in consumer attitudes. Furthermore, the discussion paper frames consumer attitudes within the types of data collection and use indicated by the respective services, particularly for the purpose of targeting.

Drawing on desk research and a representative survey, we arrive at the following results: First, consumer attitudes towards the gathering and usage of personal data vary hardly depending on the OTT service used. Only the amount of deliberately provided data differs quite clearly. This is due to the nature of the services. For example, an e-commerce service logically requires more data input than a simple search query on an internet search engine. Furthermore, the comparison of the data protection statements and the targeting options that the OTT services analysed here (Google search, YouTube video platform, Amazon e-commerce and Facebook) offer their advertisers shows no discrepancies.

Overall, the results of the discussion paper underscore the complex interrelationships between data collection, OTT service quality and consumer interest. Data sovereignty solutions such as Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS) can already be used by consumers today. For a forward-looking regulation it is necessary to accompany the standardization process of such systems. Data protection itself however faces the challenge of overcoming the dilemma of informed consent.

Discussion Paper is available for download.

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