Empirical data on the privacy paradox

Benjamin Wittes and Emma Kohse at Brookings: “The contemporary debate about the effects of new technology on individual privacy centers on the idea that privacy is an eroding value. The erosion is ongoing and takes place because of the government and big corporations that collect data on us all: In the consumer space, technology and the companies that create it erode privacy, as consumers trade away their solitude either unknowingly or in exchange for convenience and efficiency.

On January 13, we released a Brookings paper that challenges this idea. Entitled, “The Privacy Paradox II: Measuring the Privacy Benefits of Privacy Threats,” we try to measure the extent to which this focus ignores the significant privacy benefits of the technologies that concern privacy advocates. And we conclude that quantifiable effects in consumer behavior strongly support the reality of these benefits.

In 2015, one of us, writing with Jodie Liu, laid out the basic idea last year in a paper published by Brookings called “The Privacy Paradox: the Privacy Benefits of Privacy Threats.” (The title, incidentally, became the name of Lawfare’s privacy-oriented subsidiary page.) Individuals, we argued, might be more concerned with keeping private information from specific people—friends, neighbors, parents, or even store clerks—than from large, remote corporations, and they might actively prefer to give information remote corporations by way of shielding it from those immediately around them. By failing to associate this concern with the concept of privacy, academic and public debates tends to ignore countervailing privacy benefits associated with privacy threats, and thereby keeps score in a way biased toward the threats side of the ledger.To cite a few examples, an individual may choose to use a Kindle e-reader to read Fifty Shades of Grey precisely because she values the privacy benefit of hiding her book choice from the eyes of people on the bus or the store clerk at the book store, rather than for reasons of mere convenience. This privacy benefit, for many consumers, can outweigh the privacy concern presented by Amazon’s data mining. At the very least, the privacy benefits of the Kindle should enter into the discussion.

To cite a few examples, an individual may choose to use a Kindle e-reader to read Fifty Shades of Grey precisely because she values the privacy benefit of hiding her book choice from the eyes of people on the bus or the store clerk at the book store, rather than for reasons of mere convenience. This privacy benefit, for many consumers, can outweigh the privacy concern presented by Amazon’s data mining. At the very least, the privacy benefits of the Kindle should enter into the discussion.

In this paper, we tried to begin the task for measuring the effect and reasoning that supported the thesis in the “Privacy Paradox” using Google Surveys, an online survey tool….(More)”.