We Say We Want Privacy Online, But Our Actions Say Otherwise

In this Harvard Business Review article, Leslie John analyzes the conflict between consumer concerns with online privacy and the actual behavior of consumers, which includes sharing private photographs and broadcasting personal activities on social media. John labels this contrast between concern and behavior as the “privacy paradox.”  She uses insights from behavioral psychology and the social sciences to explain the prevalence of this paradox.

John summarizes the reasons for the inconsistency between consumer privacy concerns and behaviors.  These reasons include:

-Privacy is a faceless issue. Covert tracking of online behavior does not concern consumers.  However, targeted or highly personalized advertisements concern consumers because they feel violated by such ads.

-Sharing feels good. Recent neuroscientific research reveals that self-disclosure is intrinsically rewarding.

-Websites use defaults. Consumers don’t usually opt-out of preset options.

-People disclose more to computers than to each other. They are less concerned with bots and algorithms reading their mail than with human scanning.

-People don’t realize the implications of what they are revealing. Consumers may not understand that personal data, shopping habits, etc. when combined may be very revealing.

-People underestimate the threat of privacy violations. The author refers to a survey revealing that 56% of respondents were overly optimistic about their probability of avoiding identity theft.

John believes that the lack of consistent concern by consumers about privacy, and the interests of online companies in making information easily available may require government regulation to protect consumer privacy.


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Americans Are Concerned About Privacy, Security, and Surveillance

Pew Research Center’s Privacy Panel Survey has revealed that Americans feel privacy is important in their daily lives.  Yet, these consumers also feel that they have limited control over the data that is collected about them and how this information is used.

This survey, taken in early 2015, shows:

93% of adults say that being in control of who can get information about them is important.

90% say that controlling what information is collected about them is important.

Another Pew survey, taken during Q3 2014, shows:

-76% of adults are not confident that the records of their activities maintained by the online advertisers who place ads on the websites they visit will remain private and secure.

-69% of adults are not confident that records of their activity maintained by social media sites they use will remain private and secure.

Few survey respondents feel that they have “a lot” of control over how much information is collected about them in daily life and how it is used.  Although few respondents report having changed their internet or mobile phone behavior to avoid being tracked recently, many of these respondents have already engaged in such activities as:

-59% of respondents have cleared cookies or browser histories.

-57% have refused to provide nonessential information for a transaction.

The concerns revealed by these Pew Surveys have ramifications for digital advertisers in terms of consumer fears about privacy and the security of their digital information and activities.


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Public Perceptions of Privacy and Security

A new report from Pew highlights Americans’ ”lack of confidence that they have control over their personal information. That pervasive concern applies to everyday communications channels and to the collectors of their information—both in the government and in corporations.” Specific findings from the report:

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