How Much Do Most People Really Care About Privacy?

from the or-will-they-only-once-it's-too-late dept

Josh Bernoff has a good post, focused mainly on Facebook's recent privacy PR flap, noting that most people really don't seem to care. That isn't to say that privacy isn't important, and that privacy breaches or attempts to lower levels of privacy aren't concerns -- but a factual statement that your average internet user doesn't really seem all that concerned. There have been plenty of privacy breaches over the years -- and we've even seen that as the number of breaches have grown, people seem to care less and less about them. The companies, who are making those breaches, tend to just see it as a cost of doing business and move on.

So that leads to some questions. If people really don't care, is privacy that important? Or is it a situation where people don't realize how much they should care and how much it can impact them? Or... alternatively, is it that people really do have a handle on the situations and realize that, for the most part, these privacy breaches really don't have that big of an impact (especially when they're so large scale that everyone is lumped in together). To some extent, the vastness of some of these privacy issues reminds me of David Brin's old suggestion that the world could be a better place if no one has any privacy, because that complete lack of privacy effectively lets everyone watch everyone else (so there's no asymmetry in the information) and also hides the minor issues that you want to keep private, because everyone's doing them, and so no one pays any attention.

I'm not convinced that's necessarily the case, but I am curious to see how this plays out. Even as some people have done a lot of grandstanding and get a lot of attention on privacy issues, if the majority of people really don't care, and don't see any real impact to questionable privacy practices, do we actually start to move to a world where privacy isn't seen as such an important idea?


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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 3:55pm

    In my experience, people are just becoming more open and willing to share details about their lives. (This is from a younger person's perspective) The really private things are just kept off the internet altogether.
    That, and ignorance. Some people just don't get it.

     

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    Matt P (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 4:01pm

    I can't say I've ever seen the big deal about most of these privacy matters anyway. To me, it's always been a best practice to keep things you don't want public off the 'net in the first place. If I put it online to begin with, there's good odds I'm just not concerned who sees it.

    I think that's a lesson the social-media generation hasn't quite learned yet, and they're getting upset because they're posting things that they might consider personal or intimate with the expectation that they'll be able to control that information once it's online.

    And yeah, I think the norms may be heading towards people not caring in the first place.

     

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    WhatPrivacy, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 4:02pm

    Overblown issue

    I've always thought that the Facebook privacy flap is overblown. I go on the assumption that anything I put on the Internet may be publicly viewable or searchable, now or in the future. Once Google started indexing newsgroups I'm amazed at the crap that shows up associated with my name. Of course I said it then, so I stand behind it. If you don't want just anyone seeing your naked body, don't post the damn pictures on the Internet. Or put less bluntly, assume that when Facebook goes out of business the buyers will just make everything available and don't post anything that you don't want the world to see or know.

     

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    I know stuff...., Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 4:12pm

    How can you think that it's anything but ignorance.

    By definition, we're ignorant of the potential consequences, as we are ignorant of the future. There may be ways that have as yet been unexploited as they haven't been considered. And when a person so inclined determines it's worth their time, then people may care.

    People don't care now.. but they will when it affects them.

     

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    Sam_K (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 4:13pm

    I think what's really going on is that most people just don't understand the issues and so it's a situation of "ignornace is bliss". Until of course there is an incident where their expectation of the system, and how the system actually works collide in an ugly manner.

     

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    Rob, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 4:17pm

    I think we're moving towards a world where there will be very few expectations of personal privacy on the internet. Of course there will always be bank statements and social security number and medical records that everyone will always want to protect. But on the social side of things, we're going to live in a world where your life is out there for all to see, and no one's really going to care anymore. Teenagers right now are growing up in a world where social networking has always existed to them - where broadcasting your life to the world has become a social norm. Anyone older than their mid-twenties still has certain values and expectations of privacy left over from growing up without the modern internet, and those are the people scolding kids to be careful what they do online, because it's going to be there forever, and how are you going to get a respectable job when your employer is a Google search away from those pantless drunken college photos of you? But I think this is only a transitional problem. It's the problem of one, or maybe two generations, and then, eventually, EVERYONE is going to have their whole life, the bad and the good, on the internet for everyone to see. And when that's the case, I think there's a bit of truth to what David Brin is saying, because if EVERYONE has little embarrassments out there on the internet, there's going to be a lot less judgment about them.

    A friend of mine was talking about Lindsay Lohan and other public trainwrecks, and he said, "To be fair, can you imagine if everything WE did in our early 20's was televised? I'm not sure we'd come off looking much better." The point being, EVERYONE does stupid shit when they're young. If all of it is being broadcast, then culturally it'll become a moot point. That's not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, I just think it's the inevitability of a generation growing up with very little concern for privacy online.

    My issue with Facebook was less about the erosion of privacy, and more about how it was handled. Facebook was more or less the only social network I had attempted to use with any degree of privacy, just in the sense that I was only interacting with my real-world friends on it, and keeping it closed off to everyone else. When a company like Facebook sets up the expectation that that's the service it's offering to me, then starts to radically change that service without proper warning or user control over the changes, it creates a huge breach of trust. And when I get the distinct feeling that the way they're going about these changes is specifically engineered to nudge my behavior on Facebook in a certain direction (towards more openness, which is not what I signed up for), it erodes that trust even further.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 4:37pm

    I think they care its just they don't realize it yet how much.

     

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    cj (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 4:59pm

    One of these days

    There will be a breech that will put all those before it to shame. It will rock the very core of what privacy is really all about.

    In the past the breeches dealt with just a business at a time. But let a complete network of co-workers, business associates, and consumers be a part of the breech, and add to that a few high class "names". I think the tide will turn.

    I hope... and that's all we can do.

     

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    intel_chris, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 5:03pm

    People do care about privacy, but

    they don't always express it in the obvious way. The recent Facebook privacy fanfare is a good example. I didn't quit Facebook (and blogged my reasons here (http://bit.ly/aMTMPx)). However, part of that was that from the very beginning I kept very little privacy sensitive information on facebook. It doesn't mean I am happy about the loss of privacy that facebook's changes imply, just that I had already preemptively avoided the issue.

     

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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 5:20pm

    I care enough about it to not be part of the Facebook lemming brood

    If you want to put your most intimate details of your life on things like Facebook, by all means, feel free to do so. I, on the other hand, do not have a compelling need to spill my guts to people I hardly know, or perhaps just recently met, only to have said information used against me in all the myriad ways possible. If you don't value your privacy, you probably have no real values to begin with, so you have no right of complaint when others use your information against you, sometimes in truly harmful ways.

    If I felt, even for a moment, that someone was spying on my personal life, I would make their own lives so utterly miserable, and inflict such horrific punishment on them, that I would doubtless be their last victim. On the other hand, should I freely display all such information to any casual observers, I would be a complete idiot and deserving of my fate. Very simple stuff, really. I fail to understand why others cannot see this. Massive idiocy on their part is the only explanation I can come up with.

     

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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 5:21pm

    I care enough about it to not be part of the Facebook lemming brood

    If you want to put your most intimate details of your life on things like Facebook, by all means, feel free to do so. I, on the other hand, do not have a compelling need to spill my guts to people I hardly know, or perhaps just recently met, only to have said information used against me in all the myriad ways possible. If you don't value your privacy, you probably have no real values to begin with, so you have no right of complaint when others use your information against you, sometimes in truly harmful ways.

    If I felt, even for a moment, that someone was spying on my personal life, I would make their own lives so utterly miserable, and inflict such horrific punishment on them, that I would doubtless be their last victim. On the other hand, should I freely display all such information to any casual observers, I would be a complete idiot and deserving of my fate. Very simple stuff, really. I fail to understand why others cannot see this. Massive idiocy on their part is the only explanation I can come up with.

     

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    Fentex, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 5:25pm

    People don't care because they haven't felt it's effects.

    Someone who's stolen identity is used to steal their wealth will suddenly care once they experience the consequences.

    When they have a hard time getting insured because their proclivity for something is discovered by insurers they'll suddenly start caring.

    The problem is the unfelt movement of bits has no discernible effect for people to feel. Most people just can't imagine the real danger in what seems like abstract concepts to them.

     

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    herodotus (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 6:33pm

    Privacy is a word that means radically different things in different contexts.

    Most people care a great deal if others listen in when they are having sex or having an argument over personal matters. There are a handful of exhibitionists who wouldn't mind, but most people would go ballistic.

    But data is different. Aside from financial matters like credit card numbers and PINs and so on, I doubt most people feel very private about the forms they fill out online. I certainly don't.

     

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    Karl (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 6:50pm

    I think that privacy is a big concern. However, I realize that social networking sites (e.g. Facebook) need to give up some of this privacy to be useful.

    I think that as long as these sites state clearly what information is to be shared, then they're golden.

    The only real concern I have is with the sharing of private information when it is not specified that it will be shared. ISP's giving info to copyright holders, for instance, or Facebook sharing private information without explicit consent.

     

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    Reed, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 6:51pm

    Privacy is a thing of the past

    Privacy is just an illusion nowadays. I had a coworker who had a past due bill and a creditor called her up to make payment arrangements. My coworker said she couldn't start making payment until the following month and the creditor got real nasty and said "People who go on vacations can afford to pay their bills". My coworker was dumbfounded and the creditor went on to explain she could access all her financial records and saw she went on a trip the month before.

    What is privacy if I can pay 40 bucks a month and see every bill you have ever paid and every place you have ever lived?

    Essentially privacy no longer exists as we once knew it. Your privacy is bought and sold, your personal information marketed to anyone who is interested on a continuous basis.

    The common man has seen their privacy disappear, but it is not a two way street. Our governments and corporations get best of both worlds. Privacy for their actions with complete knowledge of everyones business. This allows the ruling class to continue to gain an even stronger foothold over our lives then they had before.

    This is what we should be talking about. Think twice when politicians talk about "privacy" because it is always a smoke screen. We have no privacy anymore and the only recourse we have is to make sure the rich and powerful share our fate.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 7:42pm

    same as always

    No one cares until it happens to them. Until we hit that "critical mass" of lack-of-privacy, at which point it becomes comically easy to steal someone's identify (and thus their money), no one will care.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 8:14pm

    i think people view privacy as a couple of different segments. there is the privacy we all want to protect (personal info, bank info, credit info, etc), and that tends to be what gets people cranked up. but on the other side, most people join social media sites and pretty much whore out their lives. that is the part of privacy that many people do not seem very interested in protecting. those who want to protect it generally dont get into the social media thing, or are careful not to appear in images, to untag themselves, etc.

     

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    Never Again, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 8:43pm

    It is just sheer ignorance.

    Once you have had your identity stolen you will care.

     

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      Pan, Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 9:49pm

      Re:

      Been there. Smallcakes compared to some true stories, but a nightmare nonetheless. What was especially awful was that everyone but we the victims had information and they, the issuers of credit to a forger, WOULD NOT GIVE IT UP. Oh, they made a deal with the thief, she'll pay off the debt...like I would be happy about this, like I would squeal "Oh, good for you, MBNA!" Jaysus wept...

      I had no paperwork only collection company phone calls to go on, had to do all the explaining, informing, demanding, credit checking, reporting. Took the entirety of 1998 to wipe up that mess with no help from any quarter including the idiots that made the problem happen. I carry fraud alerts to this day.

      It's not the asshattery of posting pictures of oneself drunk and naked on prom night that constitute privacy issues, it's the stuff they're swiping or using against you without your knowledge.

       

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    Andrew F (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 9:10pm

    Gradations

    The incorrect assumption you're making is that the only way for users to respond to Facebook's privacy mis-steps is to leave the service. That's incorrect. They can also reduce the amount of information they make available on Facebook.

    Case in point: Last weekend, my friends and I coded up a Facebook game that needed to know (1) the gender of your friends and (2) a school or company that they are or were a part of. That's not a lot of information and hardly the thing most people care about keeping private. However, when I ran the game, only 33% of my friends actually made that information available to me.

    This is a very small sample, but it confirms what I've observed anecdotally: the quantity and quality of the information available on Facebook, even to trusted "friends", is not what it used to be. People are deleting things (or in some cases, just not exerting any effort to update). That hurts Facebook. It makes their platform less attractive to app developers and less valuable to advertisers.

    So yeah, privacy does matter. It's just that the market often acts subtly.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 2nd, 2010 @ 10:39pm

      Re: Gradations

      The incorrect assumption you're making is that the only way for users to respond to Facebook's privacy mis-steps is to leave the service. That's incorrect

      Hi Andrew: I don't see where I made that assumption. Sorry if you think I implied it somewhere, but I don't believe that to be true, and I definitely did not mean to suggest it.

       

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        Andrew F (profile), Jun 3rd, 2010 @ 9:11pm

        Re: Re: Gradations

        Fair enough. I guess I meant Josh Bernoff's assumption. He say "Forrester's own quick poll shows that few are leaving" to support his claim that people on Facebook don't care about privacy.

         

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