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January 14, 2016

Pew study: How do Americans balance privacy with sharing personal info?

How much do you guard your personal privacy?

Do you share personal information in return for a product or service?

It's a central question in this digital era that a new report by the Pew Research Center seeks to answer.

That research, released Thursday morning, takes a look at six scenarios that raise the privacy question and indicates that Americans consider a variety of factors in deciding whether or not to share their personal information:

• Value of the benefit they are being offered

• Life circumstances

• Feelings about the organization collecting the data

• What happens to their personal data after it is captured

• The length of time that data are retained

Here are some of the key insights from the survey and focus groups conducted for the report, according to Pew researchers:

Different bargains have different value to Americans. A trade-off considered acceptable by 54% of Americans was having surveillance cameras in the office in order to improve workplace security and help reduce thefts. On the other hand, a scenario involving the use of a “smart thermostat” in people’s homes that might save energy costs in return for insight about people’s comings and goings was deemed “acceptable” by only 27% of adults, while 55% saw it as “not acceptable.”
There are very few devil-may-care people who are eager for every bargain involving personal information. One-in-six adults (17%) would not take any of the deals in the scenarios and only 4% of Americans said they would find all of the six scenarios “acceptable.” A substantial majority indicated they would accept at least one of these transactions — which, in addition to surveillance cameras and smart thermostats, included privacy trade-offs involving retail loyalty cards, auto insurance and free social media. Taken together, these findings are an indicator of how Americans’ views are very contingent on the context of the deal.
In our focus groups, people spoke angrily about the potential negative consequences of data sharing. They reacted negatively to spam and unwanted contacts that occurred after sharing information, they worried about hackers, and they expressed particular sensitivities about location data tied to their homes and driving habits. One of the most unsettling privacy concerns to many of the focus group participants was how hard they feel it is to get information about what is collected and who is collecting the data. Some cited concerns about “Big Brother” profiling. Some also voiced suspicions about the motives of the companies and organizations collecting the data, saying they worried companies had ulterior motives for harvesting personal data. One focus group participant noted, “Orwell was a prophet.”

To read the report, go to the Pew Research Center.