The Results are in: Unpacking the Mixed Feelings of Data Privacy
The Privacy Paradox can best be defined by a single exchange:
Do you want privacy?
Do you use online services that put your privacy at risk?
For more than two decades, scientists have been speaking about the privacy paradox, a phenomenon in which online users express concern about their privacy, but behave as if they are not concerned about it. Anecdotal and empirical evidence reinforces this notion that individuals are willing to trade their most sensitive information - addresses, phone numbers, or other personal data - for relatively small rewards: coupons, access to websites, creating accounts or dinner reservations, etc.
Why is that?
Do people only pretend to care about their privacy? Are the barriers preventing privacy too large to hurdle in today’s digital world? Or have we simply been taught that privacy is something that’s no longer achievable online? We ran a consumer-based study to learn why our ideals about privacy don’t align with our actions, and what it means for businesses and internet users looking to get ahead in the digital age.
What we found
- Privacy is a survival tool that can be traced back to all social animals and their instinct to achieve balance. On one hand, living in groups provides animals with distinct survival advantages. On the other hand, animals must at times conceal information (think about a squirrel hiding its food) in order to survive. Privacy, then, is the act of choosing how you balance those needs - how much information will you reveal to others, and how much you will keep to yourself? When we think of privacy in this way, we’ll realize that we must always balance our reliance on social connection with our need for privacy.
- The internet has made privacy harder. For humans, the internet has greatly amplified the advantages of social life, but the ability to balance that with our need for privacy is harder than ever. That’s because the internet, as a whole today, lacks the technical infrastructure needed to achieve both connection and privacy. This largely comes down to the fact that internet users have been stripped of control over their own data, of their ability to choose who knows what about them. Instead of having control over our own privacy decisions, right now we’re largely at the mercy of the applications we choose to interact with. Every Google search, Amazon transaction, or website bookmark peels away a layer of our digital identity. Users are taking notice.
- Privacy fatigue - a sense of weariness toward privacy issues in which users believe that there is no way to manage their personal information online - is common among users today. This shared feeling is the result of countless repeated experiences which reinforce that online privacy is not achievable. Simply put, users are burnt out and feel that there’s nowhere left to turn. But that can change.
How we can do better
The internet is here to stay. Our need for privacy too.
But in order to create a world in which we are truly private online, software developers must build with privacy as a primary, no-compromise focus.
So how do you do that?
Our research shows that trust and privacy go hand in hand. For that reason, it is critical that software developers create systems that users can trust. There are a number of ways to go about this, but generally, users say they trust websites and online services that keep their data confidential, don’t share their data with third party apps, and give users control over who accesses their data and for what purpose.
But with today’s privacy fatigue, practicing good privacy habits isn’t enough to win over users. You also have to brag about it.
Our research also shows that users tend to assume that websites and online services are “bad guys” when it comes to privacy, unless you prove otherwise. So, in order to cash in on user trust, you must establish good privacy practices and show users that those privacy protections are in place. This can be done by notifying users that a website is compliant with privacy laws, showing users that their data is encrypted, requiring two-factor authentication to access personal information, and by being transparent about what you’re using user data for.
Putting it all together
A wider proliferation of true digital privacy behooves both businesses and individual users.
For users, the benefits are clear. People have a right to - and a need for - privacy, and the internet is no different. Users deserve the peace of mind that comes with knowing the fate of their personal information is in their own hands.
The key here is that a customer’s peace of mind can also be a legitimate difference-maker for businesses. By proving to customers that their privacy interests are a top priority, you can establish a business relationship that is built on trust. The customer loyalty that trust can create, especially for those who invest in privacy before their competition, is priceless for today’s businesses.
At Blindnet, we see the digital world shifting towards privacy thanks to these new software development practices - both for the good of user privacy, and to the benefit of businesses who invest in user privacy. Blindnet is making this happen right now by working with SMBs and enterprise clients to help them build privacy-preserving experiences, build trust with customers from the very first interaction and comply with privacy regulations.
If you are curious to read more details about the privacy research the blindnet team conducted, check out the full white paper here.