Would You Pay For Privacy?

The protection of personal information is an important aspect of anybody's life.  Most people have a feeling of their 'personal space' when they're in a crowed public place such as the metro or bar and like to create an invisible barrier between themselves and others.

This personal space is often extended to the non-physical aspects of our life too, such as our contact information.  Many telephone directories give the option to be 'ex-directory', with screening options also available.  Electoral role information can also be masked, removing the opportunity for sales and marketing spam being aimed at individuals.

Most of these claims for additional privacy are not uncommon and are accepted as a standard way of protecting the personal attributes of an individual.

Today, most personal information for an individual, can be gained on line from doing some basic searches.  Certainly things like name, address and telephone number will be pretty widely available after a few minutes of search engine interrogation.  Dependent on how much of an on-line presence an individual has, additional details such as education history, current employer, email address, date of birth and even partner/spouse details could also be found, mainly due to the sharing nature of social networking.

In the last two years there have been numerous privacy rows surrounding the likes of Google and Facebook as they continually change the small print surrounding what they can (and will do) with your personal information.  Is it a right that by default personal information will be kept private, or at least there are options for you to keep it private?

If you're signing up for any new service, you generally have the opportunity to view the privacy agreement and the general terms and conditions of use.  These agreements will generally describe in pretty granular detail what will happen to any personal data.

Should privacy be 'turned on' by default and 'turned off' by selection and is the right to protect your own personal information an implicit right?   Perhaps focusing on social networking is unfair, as in it's nature, social networking is about information sharing.  The second point when discussing privacy regarding social networking, is that in general, social networking sites are free, or at least offer a freemium model for example like LinkedIn.  If the levels of privacy configuration are not in agreement with your own model, you can simply stop using the service right?

It's interesting to see if that offering a paid for service alters the perception towards privacy and risk?  If for example a service implicitly guarantees privacy of information but has a cost associated with it, would that alter the users demand for greater privacy?  Is there a cost associated with protecting your information?

A slightly unrelated example is to look at the anti-virus market.  It's worth several  billion dollars annually, with specific products for laptops, servers, smart phones and so on.  In this context, people are willing to pay substantial amounts of cash to protect their objects and implicitly their information.

It will be interesting to see if in the coming years as information proliferation and 'big data' become omnipresent and the digitial nature culture brings us permanently connected to the internet, whether specific privacy protection is a viable requirement for many people and if they're prepared to pay a price for it.

(Simon Moffatt)