Friday, November 10, 2006

Mixed Privacy Messages May Point to Future Trends

Numerous studies have shown that many people will hand over sensitive data about themselves in return for relatively minor benefits (an ice cream cone in one case I recall). This tendency has perplexed many privacy professionals and social commentators, myself included, as it seems to run counter to expressed fears about privacy (remember that privacy fears topped the chart of "what worries you most about the new century" in a large-scale 1999 survey, beating terrorism).

One way to resolve the apparent dilemma is to declare these studies flawed, suggesting they somehow fail to reflect people's underlying attitudes to privacy. But I can't accept that explanation. The empirical evidence of a strong "exhibitionist" streak in modern society is just too strong and you must account for it in an theory about privacy. Now I see that some people are making progress along these lines. Check out Douglas Rushkoff's perceptive piece in a recent issue of Discover magazine.

"It's as if we humans are not simply wiring up a communications infrastructure but creating a shared platform for self-awareness as a collective organism. And this goal--this almost instinctive push toward gaining access to one another--far outweighs our concern over how this data might be used."

This meshes quite nicely with my view of how humans are evolving. And it also jives with ideas I advanced in one of my first columns on privacy, back in 1994, which I will post here as soon as I can find the darned thing (Google probably has it somewhere).

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