The privacy paradox

Digital technologies open up debate and foster democratic participation - and enable widespread surveillance and interception.

A new survey of the American public’s attitude to privacy shows them to be deeply concerned about their privacy on the web, and yet doing very little to amend their behaviour or protect their information.

  • 81% of people do not feel secure about sharing private information via social media
  • 68% feel the same about online chats; and 59% feel the same about text messaging
  • 57% do not feel secure about email; and 46% feel the same when it comes to speaking on their mobile phones
  • 80% of users of social networks say they are concerned about advertisers or businesses gaining access to their information
  • 70% say they are at least somewhat concerned about the government doing so without their knowledge.
  • 91% agree or strongly agree that consumers have lost control over how their personal information is collected or used by companies.

And yet:

  • 55% are willing to share information with web companies in order to get free services
  • 36% say these services are more efficient because they have access to this information

Levels of distrust of companies is equalled by the public's distrust of governmen.  The problem is that consumers are too invested in the services and see lack of privacy as a trade-off of living in the digital age. 

The United Nations Report on the protection and promotion of the right to privacy

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) prepared the report at the request of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.  The report also explores the role of private enterprise in the gathering of user data.  The report calls for companies to adhere to the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights as a global standard for preventing adverse effects on human rights linked to business activity.

Sources: New York Times; Pew Internet; United Nations.