The value of privacy

Citizens need privacy as a shield against the state as well as corporate power. Legally, privacy is thought of a protection from other things.

Contested commodities

Research shows that people may be willing to part with what is known as contested commodities.  People may be willing to trade private information for goods and services.  In U.S law we regulate contested commodities.  For example, it is legal to sell your blood and your hair, but not your internal organs.  In India, it’s legal to sell kidneys.

Technological impact

Technology has rendered privacy dead.

People have asserted that the more familiar you are, the more likely you will be to allow invasions of technology, because you are more used to the technology.

Privacy research — survey

Telephone survey: Random sample of about 400 people

Demographics: split evenly by gender, overwhelmingly white, age groups: under 30, 30-59, 60+

Wanted to find out generally what people thought about privacy and also where there were significant differences based on age groups.

Survey results

No significant comfort difference between people based on these factors:

  • Criminal background check
  • Searched at airport
  • Urine sample to get a job
  • Sharing medical records
  • Hearing the details of private lives
  • Recording of online purchase information

Differences between the age groups:

  • Putting information on facebook
  • Putting medical records online
  • Filing taxes online and in the mail
  • Employer access to e-mail
  • Access to cell phone records, Web history, online purchases by government and corporations

What does this mean?

  • One of the things that comes through is that people do want to maintain control over information used and context
  • Older people are more consistent in their views.  Younger people have more varied opinions
  • Corporations and government are the focus of concern — people are more concerned about corporate invasion of privacy than government invasion of privacy
  • Most concern — medical records, cell phone records, social media records
  • The amount of technology people have does not have any factor on how people feel about privacy
  • All age groups want to control how their personal information is used


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