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The Privacy Paradox

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6 Responses

  1. One thing that puzzles me is why people are so utterly paranoid about privacy when it comes to their medical records, but not when it comes to information far more useful to those with nefarious purposes. Unless you have an STD, have had an abortion, or are otherwise concerned about blackmail, what could a criminal really do with your medical records?

  2. @ Justinian, criminals getting medical records (or DNA) are probably less of a worry to most folks than insurance companies and other commercial entities that could potentially use health information to make decisions negatively affecting them, even without their knowledge.

  3. Frank says:

    I agree that people may discount the value of privacy, but I’d take the critique even further. Given that many new uses of data are unforeseeable, and that we may not even be able to find them out due to trade secrecy shields wielded by data warehousers, how is anyone supposed to assess the threat?

    Moreover, even if we make the heroic assumption that the costs and benefits can be evaluated rationally, we still face the problem that the “value” of one’s decision is also relative, depending on what others have done. I’ve explored that idea a bit more here:

    http://www.concurringopinions.com/archives/2008/02/siva_vaidhyanat.html

    As Sunstein and Frank suggested in their work on cost benefit analysis and relative position, given the importance of positional goods in today’s society, people who trade off safety and privacy will likely “outcompete” peers who won’t do so. They will have more money and time, and can thereby purchase better homes, send their children to better schools, afford better health insurance, and generally enjoy a higher standard of living than those who take the monetary and time-wasting sacrifices entailed by demanding greater privacy.

    Therefore, I think it’s unhelpful to model privacy as something we should “buy and sell,” or even as something we currently do “trade off” for one or another good or service. As David Grewal notes in his Network Power, most of the decisions we make in a networked society are simultaneously forced and free, and only the most doctrinaire libertarian would grant these tradeoffs the imprimatur of “freedom” because they were not “forced” in the technical sense of that word.

  4. Shane Hartman says:

    The experiment Solove discussed above seems very revealing about how individuals make privacy decisions and how much value they place upon their privacy. Think of it like a form of informed consent. Of course individuals are less forthcoming about revealing personal information when they are reminded of the risks of revealing such information by assurance that the information will be kept confidential. Perhaps individuals about to undergo invasive surgery who were assured that the physicians performing the procedure would not maim them would be less likely to consent to the operation than those who were just whisked away to the operating room. But would it be reasonable to infer from this that people place little importance on their lives or physical well-being when seeking medical care? So while I agree with Strahilevitz that behavioral data is probably a better indicator than survey data for evaluating how strongly individuals value privacy, I think we have to be very cautious about how we interpret individual behavior.

  5. Shane Hartman says:

    The experiment Solove discussed above seems very revealing about how individuals make privacy decisions and how much value they place upon their privacy. Think of it like a form of informed consent. Of course individuals are less forthcoming about personal information when they are reminded of the risks of revealing such information by an assurance that the information will be kept confidential. Perhaps individuals about to undergo invasive surgery who were assured that the physicians performing the procedure would not maim them would be less likely to consent to the operation than those who were just whisked away to the operating room. But would it be reasonable to infer from this that people place little importance on their lives or physical well-being when seeking medical care? So, while I agree with Strahilevitz that behavioral data is probably a better indicator than survey data for evaluating how strongly individuals value privacy, I think we have to be very cautious about how we interpret individual behavior.