February 12, 2016

Sometimes a Good Bargain may Trump Privacy Concerns

“Many Americans are in an ‘it depends’ frame of mind when they think about disclosing personal information or keeping it private when considering different scenarios,” according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 461 adults and nine online focus groups of 80 people.

The survey found that in a variety of circumstances, Americans are willing to share personal information or permit government surveillance in return for getting something of perceived value. But they are often cautious about disclosing their information and frequently unhappy about what happens to that information once companies have collected it.

The respondents’ ambivalence showed up in how the respondents felt about retail loyalty cards and “smart thermostats. The survey found that “nearly half (47%) of respondents said the basic bargain offered by retail loyalty cards – namely, that stores track their purchases in exchange for occasional discounts – is acceptable to them.” But their attitudes shifted when they were asked about installing thermostats in their homes that would help them save money while tracking their movements. Most—by a 55% to 27% margin—said they consider this an unacceptable tradeoff.

So what phrase best captures Americans’ views on the choice between privacy vs. disclosure of personal information? “It depends.” The choice is shaped by “both the conditions of the deal and the circumstances of people’s lives.” Other factors come into play as well, such as what happens to data after it is collected, how long it is retained, and whether it is disseminated to others.

For more on this survey, visit: