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The privacy dilemma

With the Senate about to hold hearings on online privacy, a new survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute for online news site MSNBC has revealed some interesting findings.

When a representative sample of 700 people were asked whether they care more, less, or the same about privacy as they did five years ago, 36 per cent said it was more important. The interesting part? The same number – yes, exactly 36 per cent – said it was less important."

Only about one in four of the respondents said their views on privacy hadn’t changed, suggesting that not only did people hold strong opinions on this important topic but that those opinions were becoming more entrenched.
In trying to understand this apparent polarization, researchers came up with one consistent element: social networks. By overwhelming numbers, avid users of social networks care less about privacy than they did five years ago, while people who avoid social networks care more.

Does this mean that frequent use of Facebook, Twitter and the like actually reduces people’s concerns about privacy? Apparently so, say the researchers. “When you become active in social networks, you probably have reached the conclusion that this privacy thing isn’t all that important,” said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Institute. “You probably think it’s a little bit of hype.”

Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon Universty suggests that a human characteristic called “confirmation bias” also plays a part. “Once people make a decision, they tend to become even more militant about their decision,” he said. “First I select myself into my group — for or against social networks — then I prove to myself the decision was right.”

The only problem with all this is that members of social networks are the people that spend the most time online and are the ones that routinely reveal the most information about themselves. However, despite the many well-publicized privacy breeches by Facebook and others, there have been few direct consequences for the hundreds of millions of members. And the longer you use a social network without incident, the more your privacy concerns fade away.

So as the whole online privacy debate moves into high gear, with talk of an online privacy bill of rights and a “do not track” registry, the authorities are faced with a sobering thought: the people who are deemed to be most at risk appear to be the ones who care the least.

Do you care more or less about online privacy than you did 5 years ago? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

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