Privacy is to be left alone

Interesting series from MSNBC…The first article in the series “Privacy under attack, but does anybody care?” does a good job of capturing the difficulty with the concept of Privacy. The article points to a survey of 6500 users where they try to define Privacy:

Most Americans struggle when asked to define privacy. More than 6,500 MSNBC readers tried to do it in our survey. The nearest thing to consensus was this sentiment, appropriately offered by an anonymous reader: “Privacy is to be left alone.”

The article looks at the issues with putting a value on Privacy and finds the price of privacy to be unassessable.

Perhaps a more important question, Acquisti says, is how do consumers measure the consequences of their privacy choices?

In a standard business transaction, consumers trade money for goods or services. The costs and the benefits are clear. But add privacy to the transaction, and there is really no way to perform a cost-benefit analysis.

If a company offers $1 off a gallon of milk in exchange for a name, address, and phone number, how is the privacy equation calculated? The benefit of surrendering the data is clear, but what is the cost? It might be nothing. It might be an increase in junk mail. It might be identity theft if a hacker steals the data. Or it might end up being the turning point in a divorce case. Did you buy milk for your lactose-intolerant child? Perhaps you’re an unfit mother or father.

“People can’t make intelligent (privacy) choices,” Acquisti said. “People realize there could be future costs, but they decide not to focus on those costs.

The issue with privacy is that human beings are essentially social beings. We are taught to value social interactions and to build relationships. In such an environment, its hard for a common person to value privacy too highly. What do you think?


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