A new Pew Research Center study finds that there are a variety of circumstances under which many Americans would share personal information or permit surveillance in return for getting something of perceived value. For instance, a majority of Americans think it would be acceptable (by a 54% to 24% margin) for employers to install monitoring cameras following a series of workplace thefts. Nearly half (47%) say the basic bargain offered by retail loyalty cards – namely, that stores track their purchases in exchange for occasional discounts – is acceptable to them, even as a third (32%) call it unacceptable.
Still, the study noted that many Americans are cautious about disclosing their information and frequently unhappy about what happens to that information once companies have collected it. For example, when presented with a scenario in which they might save money on their energy bill by installing a “smart thermostat” that would monitor their movements around the home, most adults consider this an unacceptable tradeoff (by a 55% to 27% margin).
The study examined six different scenarios: Office surveillance cameras, sharing health information, retail loyalty cards, auto insurance, free social media and smart thermostats.
In online focus groups and in open-ended responses to a nationally representative online survey, the survey found that many people expressed concerns about the safety and security of their personal data in light of numerous high-profile data breaches. They also regularly expressed anger about the barrage of unsolicited emails, phone calls, customized ads or other contacts that inevitably arises when they elect to share some information about themselves.
The survey noted that the findings suggest that the phrase that best captures Americans’ views on the choice between privacy vs. disclosure of personal information is, “It depends.” People’s views on the key tradeoff of the modern, digital economy – that consumers offer information about themselves in exchange for something of value – are shaped by both the conditions of the deal and the circumstances of their lives. In extended comments online and through focus groups, people indicated that their interest and overall comfort level depends on the company or organization with which they are bargaining and how trustworthy or safe they perceive the firm to be. It depends on what happens to their data after they are collected, especially if the data are made available to third parties. And it also depends on how long the data are retained.
Furthermore, the survey noted that most of the public said their consideration of each individual scenario is conditional: Their answer depends on the circumstances of the offer, their trust in those collecting and storing the data, and their sense of what the aftermath of data-sharing might look like.
Some issues people ponder as they consider privacy tradeoffs include the likelihood of getting spam, the risk of data breaches and the special intimacy tied to location data and overdone customer profiling. The survey found:
•Scammers and hackers are a constant threat.
•Location data seems especially precious in the age of the smartphone.
•Profiling sometimes seems creepy.
•People are not happy when data are collected for one purpose but are used for other, often more invasive purposes.
Yet, the survey noted that even as consumers worry about the negative downstream consequences of sharing their personal information, the findings also illustrate that consumers understand and appreciate the benefits of sharing – at least under certain circumstances. The key themes include:
•Free is a good price.
•Sharing helps lubricate commercial and social interactions.
•Certain realms are not inherently private and different rules about surveillance and sharing apply.
The full study is at http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/01/14/privacy-and-information-sharing/