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people care about privacy

It is often said that people don’t care much about privacy these days given how much information they expose about themselves. But survey after survey emphatically concludes that people really do care about privacy.

Some Key Findings from Pew Research

In a survey by Pew Research Internet Project, just released today, there are several important findings, including:

  • 91% of adults in the survey “agree” or “strongly agree” that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies.
  • 80% of those who use social networking sites say they are concerned about third parties like advertisers or businesses accessing the data they share on these sites.
  • 70% of social networking site users say that they are at least somewhat concerned about the government accessing some of the information they share on social networking sites without their knowledge.
  • 80% of adults “agree” or “strongly agree” that Americans should be concerned about the government’s monitoring of phone calls and internet communications. Just 18% “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with that notion.
  • 64% believe the government should do more to regulate advertisers, compared with 34% who think the government should not get more involved.

Why Doesn’t Behavior Match Up to Attitudes about Privacy?

But people’s stated preferences often differ from their actions. Even people who say they value privacy trade it away for small increases in convenience or trinkets. People expose their personal data widely these days on social media sites and elsewhere.

So what explains the disconnect between these strong pro-privacy attitudes and people’s behavior?

Several factors can affect people’s decisions about privacy. One problem is information asymmetries — people lack adequate knowledge of how their personal information will be used. Another problem is bounded rationality — people have difficulty applying what they know to complex situations. People might provide personal data because they lack knowledge about the potential future uses of the data. People also surrender personal data to companies often because they do not think they have much of a choice.

The extensive research by Professor Alessandro Acquisti explains why people behave the way they do even when they value privacy highly.

Public Concern About Government Surveillance

Another key finding in this report is that 80% are concerned about government surveillance. As I stated before the PCLOB in remarks today (which I posted here in another post), the government is currently lacking sufficient public “buy in” for its surveillance efforts. This is a serious problem, and government officials cannot ignore it. The laws providing for accountability and oversight of government surveillance have been too weak, and in part because of that, people have lost trust.

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of training on privacy and security topics.  This post was originally posted on his blog at LinkedIn, where Solove is an “LinkedIn Influencer.” His blog has more than 850,000 followers.

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