People Value Their Privacy Highly: Maybe

Often discussions about online privacy assume that we should all maximize our privacy settings and never give up any information, but for some reason we don’t. If you look up a bunch of articles on the topic, many will have a list of tips that you can use to supposedly keep people from tracking you.

What nobody seems to mention is that doing these things will make your online experience worse. There’s a reason most of us have traded off absolute privacy for the convenience of all these online services, they are useful.

  • First off, the services and content we enjoy are being paid for with targeted advertising. The quality is at least partly contingent to the value to advertisers. This value is higher with targeted ads. To achieve the same effect, untargeted ads have to yell more loudly. (think HEAD ON! APPLY DIRECTLY TO FOREHEAD)
  • Second, the ads themselves may be useful. Ideally, an ad is an effective communication between two parties who have an equal interest in the potential transaction—not an attempt to make us do something we don’t want to do, and that would be bad for us.
  • Many of the services are, themselves, driven by the information they have about us. For instance, Google Now provides us with alerts and updates based on information it finds across various Google products. Search results are far more relevant when they are based on our search history. If this process helps us find exactly what we want with much less effort, then we have benefited.

Is it worth it? Not everyone thinks so, and I respect people who want to have much higher levels of privacy available. One of the real issues is that the default level of privacy tends to be the one most people end up with, and this is being decided through a process of the big players pushing outwards until they get a big backlash.

But it’s also hard to show that privacy is something most people consider an absolute, inalienable right. Many studies have been done to explore exactly how much we value privacy. Results vary, and there is a lot of argument over the real meaning of these studies. But the range seems to be anywhere from around $6 to over $100.

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