it isn’t that people don’t care about privacy, it is just that privacy is getting more expensive

Andrew Parker recently wrote a ‘mea culpa‘ on his 2006-2007 conception that people cared about privacy…  he writes:

But, where I “Got It Wrong” regarding privacy was assuming that other users felt similarly to me. I didn’t think users were as proactive as I was about privacy hygiene, but I did think they had similar instincts…. it’s remarkable what data people will willingly hand over when asked nicely, and it seems to me that privacy concerns are rarely the friction to adoption I expect they would be.

Given my privacy schtick a few people asked me what I thought….  short version – I get where Andrew is going, but I would phrase it a bit differently. 

It can all be reduced to relatively simple economics….  in the last several years a whole host of services have made the immediate pay-off to consumers for dropping privacy exceedingly high.  People do care about privacy now, as they always have — but on a relative basis, privacy/not submitting to the information market is just more expensive than it once was.

So, it isn’t ‘remarkable what data people will willingly hand over when asked nicely’, it is amazing how the cost of fundamental inputs (compute/store/bandwidth) has sufficiently changed the economic model around personal information so that services ranging from FB to Mint, etc. can provide users a huge utility return on giving up/selling/sharing more of their data.
, Thanks Sam, thoughtful response.

I’m not sure the average user gives as much thought to the value exchange for data as you credit them… two reasons why: 1) most times (like in Mint) this data is requested up front because any value is clear, so users are trading their privacy for the *hope* of a valuable service. 2) I think trying to value privacy relative the utility of social services is far too high a cognitive load (see The Penny Gap) for lessons here, so if the average consumer cared about their privacy even a little bit, then they would weight their decision to participate consciously and friction to adoption would be *much* higher.


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