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Recent Studies Debunk Privacy Stereotypes

One definition of a stereotype is a “preconcieved notion, especially about a group of people.” Often widely held, these perceptions are oversimplified and promoted without much thought. In the recent U.S. election, stereotypes were taken the extreme and became hateful and divisive. Everywhere in society, you are likely to find stereotypes of one sort or another. The same is true in popular discussions of privacy.

How often have you heard we’re living in a post-privacy world? What about the idea that we’ve already traded our privacy for speed and convenience? And aren’t younger generations more susceptible to oversharing, viewing privacy as passé?

Despite the prevalence of these stereotypes, we’re beginning to see a different picture emerge. Let’s take a look at two privacy stereotypes whose time has come to be questioned.

Is Convenience Favored Over Privacy?

In a world where we’re all ready to give up our privacy for the conveniences afforded by apps and cloud-based services, companies should be able to play relatively fast and loose without running afoul of people’s trust. But as a recent KPMG survey shows, this is simply not the case. From KPMG’s study “Crossing the Line: Staying on the right side of consumer privacy”:

“KPMG asked almost 7,000 consumers in 24 countries a series of questions to understand in what circumstances they felt comfortable or uneasy about the use of their personal data – to understand what is considered ‘crossing the line’.”

Findings, as highlighted in an article in Infosecurity Magazine, included the following:

• 60% of respondents seriously concerned about the way companies handle and use their personal information

• Many found it “creepy” the way apps access personal data (67%); and adverts (77%) and billboards (85%) that can be personalized based on purchasing behavior.

• Where there’s a genuine use case – such as car tracking devices for the emergency services (78%) and smart meters (66%) – most were happy about sharing data.

As Mark Thompson, KPMG’s Global Privacy Lead told Infosecurity Magazine:

“Our research suggests that millennials are no different to gen X when it comes to this, but what is clear that the privacy expectations do differ across the world and between different people. Privacy can enable trust but getting it wrong can completely destroy it.”

Though a third of survey respondents did feel they didn’t have any control over how companies use their private data, indifference certainly wasn’t the leading sentiment when it came to privacy.

Has the “Oversharing Generation” Abandoned Privacy?

Conventional stereotypes about youth and privacy tend to go this way: Those who have grown up in the Internet Age view privacy concerns as anachronistic and overblown, and need education and protection to keep them from oversharing.

But according to studies by the Pew Research Trust, National Cyber Security Alliance, and one published in the International Journal of Communication, just the opposite is true. The Recode article which summarized these studies reveals a younger generation highly sophisticated when it comes to taking steps to protect privacy. Irina Raicu, the author of the Recode piece and director of the Internet Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University confirms much of the findings. Raicu writes:

“At Santa Clara University, my colleague Laura Robinson and I have also done several informal small-scale surveys trying to gauge students’ attitudes toward online privacy and their awareness of ways in which they might protect it. Recently, for example, we asked a group of 26 students, all of whom were between 18 and 24 years old, about managing privacy on social media. (Needless to say, they were surveyed anonymously.) Of those, 92 percent reported having monitored and adjusted their privacy settings, 70 percent had used different social media platforms to communicate with different groups, 42 percent had limited the number of friends/connections they had on each particular platform, 42 percent had also chosen not to use certain platforms at all due to privacy reasons, and 31 percent had installed ad blockers that prevent online tracking.

More startlingly, perhaps, 92 percent reported that they limit the kinds of things they post online. This echoes one of the findings of the Hargittai/Marwick study:

“While virtually all of our participants had adopted different approaches to protecting privacy, the only widely agreed-upon technique was self-censoring, or leaving information off the Internet entirely.”

Hargittai and Marwick add that

“as users understand their lack of control over their information [online], they retreat in certain ways when it comes to sharing.”

It would seem that an older generation might learn a thing or two from the more privacy-savvy youth.

SEE Beyond the Stereotypes

Buying into stereotypes robs us of our autonomy, much like a world in which privacy really is a thing of the past. So it is up to us to remember a few deeper truths when it comes to stereotypes about privacy.

1. Remember that privacy is a choice. Be choosy and don’t be lured by convenience. Take the time to be discerning.

2. Choose to SEE clearly. Stop, Evaluate, and Enter. Resist blind acceptance and make the most informed choice you can make before you proceed.

3. Pause before you post. Be like those privacy-aware Millennials and decide what should and should be shared online, knowing that what you share online can’t necessarily be controlled once you let it go.

At its heart, privacy thrives through mindfulness. Dispensing with clichés, stereotypes, and automatic behaviors is essential to its survival (and our survival as a society). You can remain empowered by asking the tough questions and not making assumptions. That’s the path of a privacy champion.

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