The New York Times reports that “despite how much we say we value our privacy — and we do, again and again — we tend to act inconsistently,” which is the Times-nice way of saying stupidly. To half-wit:

 

Letting Down Our Guard With Web Privacy

SAY you’ve come across a discount online retailer promising a steal on hand-stitched espadrilles for spring. You start setting up an account by offering your e-mail address — but before you can finish, there’s a ping on your phone. A text message. You read it and respond, then return to the Web site, enter your birth date, click “F” for female, agree to the company’s terms of service and carry on browsing.

But wait: What did you just agree to? Did you mean to reveal information as vital as your date of birth and e-mail address?

Most of us face such decisions daily. We are hurried and distracted and don’t pay close attention to what we are doing. Often, we turn over our data in exchange for a deal we can’t refuse.

 

Helpful graphic of an experiment by Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University:

 

 

Explanation:

 

Aiming to learn how consumers determine the value of their privacy, Mr. Acquisti dispatched a set of graduate students to a suburban mall on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. To some shoppers, the students offered a $10 discount card, plus an extra $2 discount in exchange for their shopping data. Half declined the extra offer — apparently, they weren’t willing to reveal the contents of their shopping cart for a mere $2.

To other shoppers, however, the students offered a different choice: a $12 discount card and the option of trading it in for $10 if they wished to keep their shopping record private. Curiously, this time, 90 percent of shoppers chose to keep the higher-value coupon — even if it meant giving away the information about what they had bought.

 

So, since we apparently are incapable of protecting our own online privacy, lawmakers are starting to do it for us. And, as it has in so many other areas, California is leading the way.

From the Wall Street Journal:

 

New Online-Data Bill Sets Up Privacy Fight

Internet Firms Push Back on California Proposal Requiring They Disclose What Has Been Done With Users’ Information

Silicon Valley is fighting privacy advocates over a California bill, the first of its kind in the nation, that would require companies like Facebook and Google  to disclose to users the personal data they have collected and with whom they have shared it.

The industry backlash is against the “Right to Know Act,” a bill introduced in February by Bonnie Lowenthal, a Democratic assemblywoman from Long Beach. It would make Internet companies, upon request, share with Californians personal information they have collected—including buying habits, physical location and sexual orientation—and what they have passed on to third parties such as marketing companies, app makers and other companies that collect and sell data.

 

That would represent a mortal wound to digital outlets whose lifeblood is sucking data like bone marrow from their users.

Think Facebook, Google, Amazon, and etc. are going to roll over and play dead?

Think again.

 


John Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is a media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University.
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