The privacy paradox: concerns vs behavior

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Jordanna Kalkhof March 24, 2020

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What is the privacy paradox?

Grab a pen. Write down a number on a scale from 1-10 that you think accurately represents how you much care about your privacy – 1 being very little and 10 being very much. Got it? Good. Now write down the things you do or don’t do, use or don’t use, etc., to support that stance. What many of you may find, is your behavior doesn’t reflect the same level of care and concern you claim to have. This inconsistency is common – and it’s known as the privacy paradox.

There’s a general understanding of the best privacy practices online. Use strong passwords and don’t repeat them. Avoid unsecure websites. Be conscious of what you’re sharing. So, this begs the question: If we care about protecting our personal information and know what steps to take to do so, why don’t we? Additionally, why do we often give this information away willing, despite our concerns?

Privacy vs. social connection

One of the most common reasons we sacrifice our privacy is for social connection. Think you don’t do this? If you have any form of social media, think again. There’s a coined phrase that goes like this, “If something is free, you are the product.” To use “free services”, you agree to that company’s terms and conditions – you know, that little box you click through to get to the good stuff. These conditions typically include coughing up personal information that can then be used and sold to make a profit. Facebook is a prime example of a company that capitalizes on this type of data-driven business model. But, are we all going to stop using social media? Doubtful. Social media has drastically changed how connected we feel with the world and perhaps more significantly, our friends and family. It’s now easier than ever to keep people up to date on our lives and vice versa. Social connection is good for our health. It can reduce stress, decrease the risk of depression, and improve our overall mental state. While online interactions aren’t a substitute for in-person exchanges, it does provide a level of connectedness that many people deem worthy of sacrificing their privacy for.

Privacy vs. convenience

The more information companies have about you, the better they are able to target you with ads and predict your behaviors. Some consumers find this creepy, while others enjoy the convenience and personalization it offers. Have you ever been online shopping for something and then seen an ad with exactly what you were looking for at a discounted rate? Or, maybe you bought a month’s supply of a product and then started seeing ads for it around the time you were running low? Another great example beyond ad-targeting is the success of smart devices. Digital assistants, doorbells, and other smart-home devices are wildly popular, despite the many privacy and security concerns they’ve faced. There have been multiple news headlines about smart speakers listening to you, home surveillance cameras being hacked, and other related vulnerabilities involving these types of products. Yet, consumers continue to buy them. Why? Because convenience is their priority. Telling Alexa to change the thermostat, play a song, or add something to their grocery list, provides a level of ease that consumers aren’t ready to give up in the name of privacy.

Privacy vs. saving money

Make a buck. Save a buck. We’d do a lot for those two statements. Money is a motivator everyone can relate to, and businesses use this to their advantage. Want that extra 10% off? Create an account. Want a special offer on your birthday? Tell us when it is. Want a free gift? Take this survey and fill out the personal information at the end. Strategies like these are an effective way for companies to gain more information about you as a consumer. Saving money tricks us into thinking we are reducing the cost, but really, we’re just changing the currency. Less dollars, more data.

So, what?

Personal privacy preferences determine which side of these and other privacy paradoxes you fall on. It is up to you to decide how to best manage your digital self and what sacrifices are worth making when it comes to your online privacy. However, if you are someone who is concerned about personal privacy, we encourage you to take steps to support that stance. This doesn’t mean you have to delete all social media and never use a smart device. But, consider putting those best privacy practices into action. Use a password manager. Update those privacy settings. Stand firm, even if it goes against the status quo.

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