Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Privacy is a Curious Thing

The New York Times recently ran a feature about privacy researcher Alessandro Acquisti, whose examinations of the choices people make that relate to their personal information have opened eyes in Washington, DC, and Silicon Valley

Acquisti seems intent on better understanding the disconnect between what consumers say about privacy, and how they act. Knowing why people make the choices they do can inform the privacy policies companies adopt, and the regulations created by lawmakers.

One question that I continue to ask on this topic is: what does privacy really mean to the individual? Privacy is a curious thing, and each of us defines it in ways that are nuanced and fluid. If one person claims to fiercely protect their personal privacy, yet freely shares information about themselves online, is there a disconnect between what that person says and does, or does the disconnect lie in a false assumption about how that person defines privacy?

Rather than use Acquisti’s excellent research to impose new ways of protecting privacy that may be based on flawed assumptions, we should instead use his research to better educate the public about the implications of online sharing in order that they can make their own best decisions. Otherwise, the false impression that the consumer has is that there are mechanisms in place that will safeguard privacy and personal information, and that sense of security will only lead to more sharing and a reinforcement of bad sharing habits.


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