Privacy is a choice, but are the apps and websites we’re addicted to really designed to help us exercise that choice? More often than not, it seems that our choices are obscured, privacy policies dense and unread by most users, and default settings far too permissive. Perhaps there are ways to leverage those tactics that keep us liking, sharing, and clicking to help us further protect our data and make informed choices about the personal information we share.
What is Product Psychology?
Right now, tech entrepreneurs, coders, and interface designers are actively engaged in understanding the nuances of product psychology. While the tangible benefits of user-centric design have long been proven, product psychology dives deeper. Product psychology involves understanding why users do what they do and integrating that information into the development of “sticky” products that engage and sustain users for the long-term.
A Course on User Behavior
Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-forming Products, has recently organized an online course in which experts with varying specialties in product psychology share their insights on designing user behavior. To get an idea of what makes up the study of product psychology, you can check out some of the currently available lessons: “Emotional Engagement: Designing with the Heart in Mind,” “Should You Listen to Your Users or Your Data?,” and “How Scarcity & Impatience Drive User Behavior.”
For startups and massive social media giants alike, there’s a great deal of tension between respecting our privacy and monetizing the personal information we share. While there’s great optimism around product psychology’s ability to tackle some of the world’s big problems, it’s also important to take into consideration the morality of manipulation.
It’s not true that we live in a post-privacy age – ordinary people care about their privacy. Recent Harris Polls show people are increasingly unlikely to trust a variety of institutions (PDF) with their personal info, even when accessing that information is related to searches conducted for “public safety” (PDF). We have emotional connection to our personal information and respond favorably to companies and products that seem to “listen” and respect our privacy choices.
Current Privacy Research
Many organizations, such as the NYU Law Privacy Research Group, TRUSTe’s Privacy Research center, Forrester Research, Inc., Ghostery Enterprise, and the Future of Privacy Forum are actively engaged in elevating privacy issues and educating corporations and customers about privacy laws, best practices, and implications of their choices. Many of these organizations – and others – conduct research directed at better understanding our needs, motivations and behaviors surrounding online privacy.
Pro-Privacy Products and Privacy Habits
Working collectively, we can ensure the casual attitudes towards data collection, storage, and use come to a close. This is a good thing, because the society we create in its wake can be both innovative and safer. By adopting the principles of Privacy-by-Design (PDF), we can create engaging, transformative, tech-forward solutions which also protect our rights and values. We can use the lessons of product psychology to develop popular, useful products which also help people make privacy choices which align with their personal values. Companies which think about these issues upfront will be better positioned to thrive in our privacy-conscious future.
As we learn from experiments in product psychology, let’s design pro-privacy products and encourage users to develop a privacy “habit.”