Our ability to exercise choice over our personal information is a crucial aspect of privacy. For privacy to be within our power, this choice should include control over what information we wish to share as well as how this information may be used.
These must be real choices, not false choices or “take it or leave it” propositions. If we are to preserve our privacy we need to understand the concept of choice, the factors which influence our choices, and when we’re being presented with a choice that’s no choice at all. We also need to understand what some believe to be the limitations of user choice and informed consent.
On The Essential Qualities Of Choosing
Active choice is grounded in an informed decision which is then actionable. For a choice to be actionable, a few fundamental conditions must exist:
1. Information. Without the facts, we can’t form an understanding of what our decision may mean for us. In terms of privacy, this means understanding the purpose of data collection, for example. Why are we being asked to submit what we’re submitting?
2. Consequences. Once we have the facts, we can examine the potential outcomes of our choice. How comfortable are we with the ways our information will be used and shared? What are the worst-case scenarios if our information is used in impermissible or unexpected ways?
3. True choice. If the only way forward is to accept certain terms carte blanche, are we truly being offered a choice? The take-it-or-leave-it option is not one of true choice. An optimal, user-centric solution offers flexibility—the ability to deny or grant permission for use of our data for specific purposes.
4. Freedom. Are there external conditions which preclude us from making the choice or somehow make it more difficult to choose? Are we being more or less directed or forced by an authority or social pressure to make the choice? For example, consider the pressure to “overshare” on social media.
5. Respect. We cannot feel our choice is valid unless we trust that our wishes will be respected. When we indicate our preferences, will they be honored? Will the company asking for our information make every effort to comply with our preferences for how our information may be collected, used and shared?
How Do We Make Choices?
We base choices on a complicated mix of logical, psychological, and emotional ingredients. Because our lives are the sum of our choices, and we are complex, feeling, thinking individuals, it’s important to nurture our decision making process. This means balancing rational thought with emotional intelligence. Though we do our best to reason what is best, we should also align our values, principles, and self-awareness with our choice.
It’s also useful to recognize how individual personality comes into play. Some of us are quick to decide while some of us agonize when forced to make a choice. We can become paralyzed by an array of too many choices or avoid the decision altogether. How do you respond when asked to make a choice?
Sometimes we make choices under the influence of others. The article, “Study Shows The Power Of Social Influence: 5 Ways To Avoid The Herd Mentality,” discusses a recent study which revealed “when people didn’t have a strong opinion about the choices presented to them, they simply mimicked the people around them. Rather than asking questions, or spending time learning about products, people deferred to the “social default.”” When we don’t have to justify our decisions, feel a time crunch, or fear standing out, we often neglect to make our own choice.
So how do we make better choices and avoid social defaults?
Improving Our Privacy Choices
Awareness in all of its forms is the basis of a sound decision. Here are some practical questions to ask yourself before you make a choice:
1. Am I making a rash decision? What is driving me to make this decision quickly?
2. Is there anyone I can talk to who might help balance my perspective on this decision? Will the simple act of talking this out clarify my mind?
3. What do my instincts say? Beyond the rational, how does one direction versus the other feel in my center?
With privacy, we are often presented with the “least worst option.” As we’ve discussed before, we face the challenge of reconciling clashing values when it comes to the trade-off between privacy and convenience. We want it all, we take no action, and we overshare. When faced with privacy choices, we can use discernment to find a sensible middle ground.
Choice And Privacy 2.0
We will make the best choices we can by enhancing our privacy awareness and implementing a privacy practice, but we should also recognize the limitations of choice. A recent TechCrunch article makes the argument that “the consent model for consumer data has failed utterly to adapt to changes in the way technology uses data.” If the consent model is in fact antiquated and not fully operational (at all or on its own), what’s next?
To champion privacy and user choice and elevate them to the next level (Privacy 2.0), we should advocate for some sensible, central principles:
1. Privacy by design. Privacy should be the default setting, not something we have to opt-into.
2. Data minimization. Companies should limit data collection in the first place. Rather than “collect all, use some,” business practices should align with “collect what’s essential to the service.”
3. Transparency. Companies can experiment with visual privacy policies and other methods to present privacy choices in a user friendly and actionable way. The more clearly we see our privacy choices, the better they will be.
4. Privacy engineering. We can encourage the development of technical standards to enable privacy solutions. Technical methodologies that translate privacy by design concepts into practicalities will help protect consumer privacy.
Together, let’s choose a future where privacy thrives.