Pew: people will give up privacy, under certain conditions

People don't like third party ads, and they really hate being tracked in their own home

Technology trends and news by Steven Loeb
January 14, 2016
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How much information we willingly give up about ourselves is something we all wrestle with pretty much on a daily basis. Do we post about our lives on social media? Do we allow stores to know who we are to give us a better shopping experience? Or do we try our best to stay anonymous, and keep things to ourselves? Is that even possible these days?

A new study from Pew, out on Thursday, shows that many Americans are actually willing to give up their personal information, but now across the board. Only in certain circumstances are most people of with an invasion of privacy. 

The report, which is based on a survey of 461 U.S. adults and nine online focus groups with 80 participants, contains six hypothetical scenarios, each one in which people would have to give up some level of privacy.

People are most likely to give up their own privacy when their own stuff is potentially at risk. More than half, 54 percent, of all respondents approved of their work installing office surveillance cameras after a series of thefts. Only 24 percent said it was not acceptable.

The answers were also the same across different demographic groups, as well, including both men and women, young and old, and relatively well off and relatively poor. All said this was an acceptable level of privacy invasion. People really don't like to have their stuff taken.

Health information is also not as sacred at you might think, with 52 percent saying they would be ok with participating in a health information website that would let them access to their own health records and make scheduling appointments easier. Only 26 percent said it would not be acceptable.

It was older people who were more likely to be ok with this, which is somewhat surprising, to me at least, since young people generally don't have the same kind of extensive health records that older people do. Or maybe it means less to a 60 year old, who might be retired, to find out their medical problems.

Only 47 percent said they would sign up for a free loyalty card that would allow the store to keep track of their shopping habits and sell the data to third parties. 32 percent said this was not acceptable. So, to recap, people are actually more worried about others knowing their shopping habits than their medical history. That is kind of nuts. 

The number fell pretty sharply for the next one, where they could get a discount if they let their insurance company monitor their driving speed and location. Only 37 percent, a 10 percent drop off from the last scenario, and nearly half, 45 percent, said it was not acceptable.

Gender, age or household income, nobody was comfortable with doing this, mostly because they don't trust the insurance company to not turn around and use it to jack up their rates. Which...yeah, that totally would do that.

Ok, so this next one is HILARIOUS. But only because so few people said they would do it, when they totally already do.

Here's the scenario, verbatim:

"A new social media platform is being used by your former high school to help manage communications about a class reunion. You can find out the basic information about the reunion over email, but your participation on the social media site would reconnect you with old friends and allow you to communicate more easily with those who are attending. If you choose to participate, you will be creating a profile using your real name and sharing a photo of yourself. Your access to the service is free, but your activity on the site would be used by the site to deliver advertisements it hopes will be appealing to you. Would this scenario be acceptable to you, or not?"

Only 33% would find this tradeoff acceptable, and 51% would find it not acceptable. I mean, seriously? You know, there's a name for this service already. You may have heard of it. It's called Facebook and it's used by 1.5 billion people. 

This one fell pretty sharply based on age. Whereas roughly 40 percon of those under age 50 said this would be fine, 24 percent of those ages 50 and above said the same thing. 

The last scenario is likely going to be a big blow to anyone in the Internet of Things space. When asked if they would use a smart thermostat that could save them money, but would also share their data, a startling low 27 said this would be acceptable, and over half, 55 percent, said it would not. I guess most people really don't want to go out and buy a Nest, huh?

The 50 and older crowd really hate this idea, with 69 percent disapproving. 

So what does this all say? Well, for one, people really don't seem to be comfortable with giving away their data, especially if becomes invasive or if they are overhwlemed by ads as a result. They're also afraid of being hacked. Hard to argue with either of those points.

Still, as Pew points out, people are often willing to trade data for something being free. And rhey're more willing to give it up when its in a more public space, like work or a store. That's why so many balked at the thermostat idea.

As one person said in response to that one, “My home. My temperatures. My control."

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