Pew: Americans Would Trade Privacy For Safety

When it comes to coaxing personal information out of Americans, a Pew Research Center report found certain factors, like safety, lead to greater acceptance than cost savings can.
9 Ways To Bulletproof Your Privacy Policy
9 Ways To Bulletproof Your Privacy Policy
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Ever consider your privacy a bargaining chip? Apparently it is.

Americans are more apt to share their personal information in exchange for greater physical security than for savings on their utility bill, according to a Pew Research Center study released Thursday. The study explored how Americans balance their privacy concerns in exchange for cost savings, products, services, or other benefits.

The center surveyed 461 US adults and nine online focus groups of 80 people for the study. It turns out that the tipping-point issues in balancing these privacy concerns include: how valuable the benefit survey participants will receive is in return for their personal information, how they view the company or organization that is collecting the data, the length of time that the data is retained, and what is done with this data once it is collected.

Pew researchers used six hypothetical scenarios to gauge under which circumstances survey participants were willing to exchange their personal information for a product or service.

Take the case of surveillance cameras. When presented with a scenario where a company wanted to install high-resolution, face-recognition security cameras within the workplace after a spate of employees had their personal belongings stolen, 54% of the study's respondents said it would be acceptable.

Online health records also received a favorable response from a majority of those who participated in the study. Fifty-two percent of respondents agreed it would be acceptable for their doctor's office to upload and host their health records on a new health information Website. However, the tradeoff would be that patients would have access to their own health records, and appointment scheduling would potentially become easier. The scenario also said that the office promises it is a secure site.

[Read Uber Settles "God View" and Data Breach Investigation.]

But four other scenarios presented to the study's participants failed to win as much broad support as the surveillance cameras and health records:

  • Retail loyalty cards that aimed to save consumers money on their purchases, in exchange for tracking their shopping habits and selling the data to other companies and organizations, received an acceptable rating by 47% of study participants.
  • Auto insurance discounts offered to those who agreed to allow monitoring devices to be installed in their cars that tracked speed and location -- provided that results demonstrated safe driving -- also received a less than favorable response. According to the study, 37% of study participants said that scenario would be acceptable.
  • A free class reunion social media site that aimed to help manage communications about the event and connect former classmates, in exchange for sharing users' activities on the site with potential advertisers, received a poor response. Only 33% of study participants felt the trade-off was acceptable.
  • An inexpensive smart thermostat that tracked basic activities in the house, such as people's movement from room to room, received the lowest acceptance rate in the study. Twenty-seven percent of participants said it would be acceptable to collect this data, in exchange for potentially lowering their energy bill.

"There will be no 'SMART' anythings in this household," one survey respondent stated in the report. "I have enough personal data being stolen by the government and sold [by companies] to spammers now."

Also, 17% of study participants noted they would not exchange their personal information in any of the six scenarios -- and only 4% would.

**Elite 100 2016: DEADLINE EXTENDED TO JAN. 15, 2016** There's still time to be a part of the prestigious InformationWeek Elite 100! Submit your company's application by Jan. 15, 2016. You'll find instructions and a submission form here: InformationWeek's Elite 100 2016.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer