Monday, September 03, 2007

Are people willing to pay for privacy?

According to Wired, the answer to this question is no.

The Privacy Market Has Many Sellers, but Few Buyers

The focus of the article is new start-up companies that, for a relatively low amount of dollars, protect peoples' privacy. Trouble is, that people won't pay for it, and that those companies really can't do much to protect your privacy.

One of the companies the article mentions in passing is ReputationDefender, who we have seen in the past against AutoAdmit, where they had a good case, and Wesley Elsberry, where they certainly didn't have a good case. Those two cases pretty much shows the impotence of companies like ReputationDefender, who cannot actually provide you with any service that you couldn't have done yourself - in the AutoAdmit case, a good lawyer would have been as efficient, and in the later case, no person can do anything to force Elsberry to remove the content ReputationDefender (and their client) objects to.

The Wired article gives another example of the impotence of these privacy companies.

"I think it would be difficult for any company to claim they can really opt you out when they can't go back to the source and take you out of the public record," says Jennifer Barrett, global privacy leader for Acxiom, a $1.4 billion data broker. "When consumers pay for a service like this, most expect universal opt-out. When the number of (marketers) who contact them (with junk mail) doesn't change very much, they'll say 'this didn't do much good.'"

These problems is why people probably won't start using those services in any real numbers.

In Europe, and especially in Scandinavia, there are strict privacy laws, which protects people against the sort of data-mining described in the article. For compaines to be allowed to contact me, I have to explicitly opt-in. It's not even legal for companies to leave the "send me news" checkbox checked when I register on a website. This is the sort of things that is needed to ensure people can get the privacy they want - not private companies working on behalf on customers, but laws protecting customers. Such laws should also make it illegal for companies to share customer data (which it is in many countries, including the EU).

Another big thing people can do to protect their privacy, is to be careful about datasharing on the internet.

I am not as big on privacy as some people I know (I know people in the IT business who have managed to have zero internet presence), and I'm fairly easy to track down due to the fact that I post under my own name, and I am listed in the phonebook (the fact that I have an unique name doesn't help). I've participated actively on the internet since it was quite young (only a couple of years old), and I've profiles on a number of social network places (one of which, LinkedIn, regularly results in contacts regarding potential jobs). However, I am somewhat careful never to go into details about my private life, and even less my professional life - one thing you won't find here are descriptions of what work I do at my company's customers (except perhaps in broad vague terms).

This kind of behaviour is much more conductive for privacy than hiring any privacy company.

So all in all, I think the Wired article is right in that few are willing to pay for privacy, and given how ineffective/inpotent the companies offering to protect your privacy is, this is entirely understandable.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You could argue that Scandinavians are willing to pay for privacy to a certain extent. We just don't want to invest the effort and time it takes to deal with privacy companies. Instead, we've made a "bulk deal" with the state, who take care of it, and all we have to do is pay our taxes.

September 03, 2007 9:16 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

True, but there is a difference between paying implicitly (through taxes or higher prices) and explicitly (through direct payments). The later is harder to get people to do, perhaps because they feel that they are entitled to it for free.

September 13, 2007 11:46 AM  

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