A person's privacy is such a fickle issue, as proven by a Pew Research Center study published on Jan. 14 which shows that Americans are willing to disclose personal information and, by extension, their privacy, depending on the situation and the benefits that can be gained from doing so.
The study, which surveyed 481 adults in the United States (U.S.) and 80 people belonging to nine focus groups, says that Americans are even willing to undergo surveillance if they are getting something valuable and tangible out of it.
That is not to say that Americans are not aware of the risks that disclosing personal information presents. It's just that many still handle privacy concerns on a case-to-case basis, though most were unhappy with how companies handle their information most of the time.
The dissatisfaction stems from targeted advertisements, unsolicited mails and phone calls, as well as the fear consumers have from the high profile data breaches where their information were compromised due to the weakness of a company's security or lack thereof.
"People's views on the key tradeoff of the modern, digital economy... are shaped by both the conditions of the deal and the circumstances of their lives," the study indicates.
So what are the conditions that would get consumers to risk their privacy for? It turns out, 47 to 54 percent of adults would consider the risk in exchange for the promise of discounts, comfort and security. As already mentioned earlier, however, this is still on a case-to-case basis since there are some instances of the same promises being rejected by the surveyed consumers.
To Give In Or Not To Give In: That Is The Question
Respondents were given several scenarios wherein they must choose whether they are willing to provide personal information and be tracked. The participants were made to consider whether the given situation would make it acceptable for them or not to provide personal information and allow companies to track their activities or if they would have any reservations about it.
Loyalty cards are common nowadays and earning discounts through it is something many consumers look forward to. That is probably why 47 percent of the surveyed participants don't mind sharing their personal information and allowing the shop to keep track of their purchases, even at the cost of the retailer selling the information to third parties for targeted advertisements.
Thirty-two percent say that the situation is not acceptable at all cost because of the third parties involved and 20 percent find it acceptable to a certain extent. That is, only if they are allowed to limit the information that will be available to third parties or they could opt out of the third party involvement.
Curiously, when it comes to discounts involving insurance companies, the result is the opposite. In a situation where an auto insurance company offers discounts as rewards for safe driving if it can install a device in vehicles that would monitor driving speed and location, 45 percent would rather not receive discounts.
The reasons include a self-professed tendency to violate traffic rules and safety concerns over their location being constantly tracked. Thirty-seven percent feel that discounts as reward for safe driving is a good deal while 16 percent would want to know what else the companies would do with the information.
Another scenario is that respondents were given the choice to allow their doctors to upload their full medical information in a "secure" website in exchange for access to it and an easier time scheduling appointments via the site itself. Fifty-two percent found the exchange a fair deal and 28 percent were wary about the encryption and other security measures applied by the site because they still wanted to keep their health records private.
Most of those who said that the scenario is not acceptable were wary due to the high profile data breaches that have been happening and argue that no website is truly secure. The remaining 20 percent say that their decision depends on who is behind the site.
"Other than just the doctor's promise, I would want a document that contained the promise and was signed by the doctor," one respondent said.
In the case of a high school offering the use of free social media to keep alumni up to date with school events and connect with former schoolmates in exchange for authentic user profiles - that is, using real names and authentic records- which will be used to deliver targeted advertisements, 51 percent are opposed to the idea.
On the other hand, 33 percent don't mind as long as the actual information put out is limited and they will not find their likenesses being used for the ads while 16 percent are concerned about security.
Then, of course, there are those who aren't too fond of their high school days. "I have no interest in seeing my classmates ever again," another respondent said.
A whopping 54 percent of respondents would allow offices to install surveillance cameras with facial recognition programs if the initial usage is to track down and identify a repeat offender within the company, such as in cases of multiple thefts, despite the possibility of it being used later on as a way to track their attendance and performance within the premises afterwards.
Among those who answered that the situation is acceptable are people who believe that it is within their employer's right to put up system in its office. Still, 21 percent believed that the move would only be acceptable for the intended use of tracking down the thief but they feel that it is inappropriate for the surveillance to be used to track employee activities.
However, 24 percent of the respondents disagree with the possible move because it will become too easy for the company to abuse such a system.
In The End
In the end, everything is still a case-to-case basis but it cannot be denied that most of people's hesitation stems from how much a situation will ultimately affect their privacy.