This cartoon is about the “privacy paradox” — the phenomenon where people say that they value privacy highly, yet in their behavior relinquish their personal data for very little in exchange or fail to use measures to protect their privacy.
Commentators typically make one of two types of arguments about the privacy paradox. On one side, privacy regulation skeptics contend behavior is the best metric to evaluate how people actually value privacy. Behavior reveals that people ascribe a low value to privacy or readily trade it away for goods or services. The argument often goes on to contend that privacy regulation should be reduced.
On the opposite side, other commentators argue that people’s behavior isn’t an accurate metric of preferences because behavior is distorted by biases and heuristics, manipulation and skewing, and other factors. People also demonstrate a strong tendency to favor immediate gratification, and this often leads to people giving up their data; the costs aren’t understood until it is far too late.
In contrast to both of these camps, I contend that the privacy paradox is a myth created by faulty logic. The behavior involved in privacy paradox studies involves people making decisions about risk in very specific contexts. In contrast, people’s attitudes about their privacy concerns or how much they value privacy are much more general in nature. It is a leap in logic to generalize from people’s risk decisions involving specific personal data in specific contexts to reach broader conclusions about how people value their own privacy.
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy and data security training. He also posts at his blog at LinkedIn, which has more than 1 million followers.
In response to government surveillance or massive data gathering, many people say that there’s nothing to worry about. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” they declare. “The only people who should worry are those who are doing something immoral or illegal.”
This year is the 10th anniversary of the piece. A lot has happened between then and now. Not too long before I wrote my essay, there were revelations of illegal NSA surveillance. A significant percentage of the public supported the NSA surveillance, and the nothing-to-hide argument was trotted out again and again. This was the climate in which I wrote the essay.
Later on, in 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was engaging in extensive surveillance far beyond its legal authority. Snowden declared: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” This time, there was a significantly large percentage of the public that didn’t side with the NSA but instead demanded scrutiny and accountability.
Nevertheless, the nothing-to-hide argument is far from vanquished. There will always be a need for citizens to demand accountability and oversight of government surveillance, or else we will gradually slide into a more dystopian world.
Here are a few short excerpts from my nothing-to-hide essay: