Privacy Is About Tradeoffs… And Things Go Wrong When Those Tradeoffs Are Not Clear

from the privacy-week dept

Post sponsored by

Namecheap

We’ve teamed up with Namecheap and the EFF to promote Internet Privacy Week and continue the fight to protect your privacy online. Show your support by signing and sharing the new Internet Privacy Bill of Rights.


I’ve talked before about how privacy is not a “thing,” it’s a tradeoff. The idea of “perfect” privacy makes no sense, because people reveal all sorts of stuff about themselves all the time because the tradeoff is worth it. For example, just walking out of your house to go to the grocery store is a tradeoff. You give up some amount of privacy (someone can see you leaving your house, others can see what you’re buying), because we think it’s worth that minimal loss of privacy to get food. But it’s an individual tradeoff based on our own individual decision making — people who are famous celebrities or hiding from someone who wants to kill them may view the tradeoffs differently. That’s why it always bothers me a little when people focus on privacy as if it’s a thing, rather than looking at the cost-benefit tradeoffs that each individual needs to make.

But a big reason why privacy debates concerning internet services today are such a big problem is that the tradeoffs aren’t as clear or as explicit as they should be. The reason people get upset about privacy issues on internet services isn’t so much that they don’t like giving up information to get a useful service — people seem quite happy to do that. It’s that they’re not quite clear on what they’re giving up and what they’re getting back and how to weigh those two things. And that (quite reasonably!) makes people nervous and worried about their “privacy.” That’s why, in helping Namecheap put together a Privacy Bill of Rights for internet companies, we focused on things that really do make the tradeoffs more explicit and put the user in control. Concepts like better transparency and control are the keys here. Trading information for services can be a great deal — it’s what powers a large part of the internet we all find so valuable. But it needs to be done in a manner that doesn’t make people nervous or afraid. It needs to be done in a manner where they understand the tradeoffs and truly do have some control.

In such a world, where companies aren’t focusing on tricking people or doing bad things with their data, then we can have a truly powerful internet that provides lots of services, but without people and users feeling like they’re being abused or sucked dry of their information for little benefit. We’re hopeful that in framing the discussion this way, companies will recognize the value of actually being more upfront and transparent, and users will be much more in control over their information and what they get in exchange for sharing it. If you agree with these principles too, please share the document and sign on to the bill of rights. Namecheap has promised to donate $5000 to EFF for every 500 signatures.

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Comments on “Privacy Is About Tradeoffs… And Things Go Wrong When Those Tradeoffs Are Not Clear”

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6 Comments
AdvertisersAreTheProblem says:

It's a Ratings Game, Advertisers Own The Terms

Advertisers in mass through their lobbies are pushing for their own rating system which they would deem meet the FCCs Opt in effort up for a vote Oct 27th.

They feel only “classified” information would warrant out of bounds for their advertising schemes.

Thing is, who defines classified? They do…

I would consider my medical info, my banking and ALL purchases as “classified” as anyone getting their hands on any details of these could do me or my family harm.

Now we have this new alliance of advertisers that are going to self regulate what can or cannot be rated and what they can do with it?

I for one would love to see regulation that OUTLAWS advertising having access to any of our information.

Why do advertisers get such a pass when other industries would be called out and fined to oblivion?

The problem is advertisers and the governments who fail to reign them in… If they (advertisers) had no access, then our ISPs wouldn’t have anyone to sell our information to.

Heading over to sign the EFF page.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Someone and others have one little snapshot each. You would have to combine what they each know to still only reveal a little bit about you. This is hardly comparable to digital surveillance.

Yes, I wasn’t making a direct analogy to digital surveillance at all. Just noting that there are always tradeoffs, even in the most basic situations.

Your point about digital surveillance is exactly right. You are giving up a lot more information, which is why we need to know what the full tradeoffs are and have more control. My point about the leaving your house example is to point to an extreme example — where you give up very little private info, but get tremendous benefit.

So perhaps I was not clear, but I wasn’t saying that surfing the internet is like leaving your house to go to the shop. I was just saying that every situation has tradeoffs when it comes to privacy vs. benefit. But other than that, I think we agree.

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