Ben Hatton How does the world feel about Data Privacy?

August 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

EMC Privacy Index infographic

This infographic represents many of the significant findings of the study (click for a larger version).

I recently read the 2014 EMC Privacy Index that was released a couple of months ago, and the questions it raises concerning data privacy are so relevant today that I wanted to dedicate a post to it. If you are unfamiliar with the study, it seeks to provide a pulse of how people around the world view their own data, as well as how they view the companies that store and use their data.  The survey involved 15,000 people in 15 different countries, and covered virtually all of the different types of interactions and transactions people have online. You can check out the study in its entirety here.

I want to really focus in on the 3 major “paradoxes” that were recognized from the results of this study, and look at the questions that they raise.

Paradox #1: We want to have our cake and eat it too, when it comes to our privacy.

The study revealed that, although people the world over are spending more and more time online shopping, banking, working and communicating, very few are willing to give up much if any private information in exchange for enhancing those experiences. Types of this private information includes things like search history, past purchases, places you’ve visited, and more, and when this data is collected, it can help improve the ease and speed of using different online services (if you don’t believe me then try using Google Now for a little while). However, here is what the study found:

  1. 91% of those surveyed place a high value on having quick and easy access to information online that is relevant to them.
  2. Just 27% of those people said they were willing to provide some amount of private information in order to make those online interactions faster and easier.

I think the adage of “having your cake and eating it too” is probably the best way to describe this paradox, since it’s not exactly realistic to expect a high level of ease when using online services, without the willingness to share at least some level of information that will help make that experience possible.

Paradox #2: Many of us have experienced a data breach at some point, but we don’t do much to keep it from happening again.

Dubbed the “take no action” paradox, the study also found that the majority of us have experienced a data breach at some point in our lives (60% of those surveyed), but we don’t take many preventative actions to prevent such breaches from occurring again. They found that:

  1. 62% of us don’t regularly change our passwords.
  2. 39% don’t enable password protection on our phones.
  3. 33% don’t adjust or customize the privacy settings on our social media accounts.
  4. When asked about how they would rank the top risks to the future of data privacy, respondents ranked businesses who sell their data, as well as low federal regulation as the highest risks to privacy, while ranking personal oversight of their own data as a very low risk (only 11%).

These stats indicate to me that there is a majority of people who believe the burden of protecting personal data lies on the companies who use that data and the government, but not on the individual. This is certainly troubling, and it’s reinforced by the 3rd paradox:

Paradox #3: We have no problem with sharing our personal lives on social media, even when we have very little trust in how they handle our data.

The final paradox reveals that we share tons of personal information on sites like Twitter and Facebook. While that’s no surprise in itself, we share this information while having very little confidence in both the abilities and ethics of social media companies.

  1. 51% of us have confidence in the ability of social media companies to protect our privacy.
  2. Only 39% have trust in their ethics concerning our privacy.

What these paradoxes mean

I feel that these paradoxes all point to one core issue, which is a significant disconnect between expectations and reality on data privacy. We expect great online experiences, but the reality is that sometimes some data must be shared for that to be possible. We expect companies to never have a data breach, but the reality is that breaches do happen, and we need to take measures to protect ourselves. We expect (or at least hope) social media companies to put a priority on our privacy, but the reality is this just isn’t always the case.

I think the burden to address this disconnect falls on both us as individuals, and on companies:

  1. Individuals: We should regularly be thinking about our data privacy, and taking charge of what types of information we share, who we share it with, and how we can best protect it.
  2. Companies: Companies that collect and use personal data of their customers really need to step up and prove that that data is valued by them as something to be protected, and deliver on that with action and policies that center around data protection and privacy.

At the end of the day, data privacy is a 2-way street, and with some knowledge and action on both sides, I think the issues surrounding it can become more concrete and less paradoxical.

What are your thoughts on privacy? I’m definitely curious to hear what others think on the subject as well. Feel free to leave a comment below!


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