Dan Solove takes on the privacy paradox

Daniel J. Solove of George Washington has written The Myth of the Privacy Paradox. Here is the abstract:

In this article, Professor Daniel Solove deconstructs and critiques the privacy paradox and the arguments made about it. The “privacy paradox” is the phenomenon where people say that they value privacy highly, yet in their behavior relinquish their personal data for very little in exchange or fail to use measures to protect their privacy.

Commentators typically make one of two types of arguments about the privacy paradox. On one side, the “behavior valuation argument” contends behavior is the best metric to evaluate how people actually value privacy. Behavior reveals that people ascribe a low value to privacy or readily trade it away for goods or services. The argument often goes on to contend that privacy regulation should be reduced.

On the other side, the “behavior distortion argument” argues that people’s behavior isn’t an accurate metric of preferences because behavior is distorted by biases and heuristics, manipulation and skewing, and other factors.

In contrast to both of these camps, Professor Solove argues that the privacy paradox is a myth created by faulty logic. The behavior involved in privacy paradox studies involves people making decisions about risk in very specific contexts. In contrast, people’s attitudes about their privacy concerns or how much they value privacy are much more general in nature. It is a leap in logic to generalize from people’s risk decisions involving specific personal data in specific contexts to reach broader conclusions about how people value their own privacy.

The behavior in the privacy paradox studies doesn’t lead to a conclusion for less regulation. On the other hand, minimizing behavioral distortion will not cure people’s failure to protect their own privacy. It is perfectly rational for people — even without any undue influences on behavior — to fail to make good assessments of privacy risks and to fail to manage their privacy effectively. Managing one’s privacy is a vast, complex, and never-ending project that does not scale; it becomes virtually impossible to do comprehensively. Privacy regulation often seeks to give people more privacy self-management, such as the recent California Consumer Privacy Act. Professor Solove argues that giving individuals more tasks for managing their privacy will not provide effective privacy protection. Instead, regulation should employ a different strategy — focus on regulating the architecture that structures the way information is used, maintained, and transferred.

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