What is the Privacy Paradox?
The Privacy Paradox refers to the difference between the user’s intentions on protecting their privacy and their actual behavior online.
This concept was first explored two decades ago by Barry Brown, an employee of Hewlett-Packard (HP). Since then, researchers have found that people seem to behave the opposite of how they think they’d like to act in the digital space.
Intuitively, we would think that the concern of sneaky practices would induce people to restrict their network activities. However, this isn’t the case for the vast majority of people online. Though people claim to be worried, they take a few steps toward actually protecting personal data. In fact, users tend to actually behave in the opposite way: they share personal data for the benefit of convenience or receive personalized services on many platforms.
Why the Privacy Paradox Happens
Sometimes companies utilize deceptive design patterns (also called dark patterns) to trick users into doing things they didn’t mean to. Oftentimes, websites and apps are designed to take advantage of our natural tendencies and exploit common cognitive biases.
The term “dark patterns” refers to unethical design strategies to nudge users into doing things they might not otherwise do. They can come in many forms such as sharing personal data or making purchases.
These techniques can be extremely effective, and that’s why they’re used so often. But there’s a downside: they can contribute and can also have a significant impact on the overall privacy of users, contributing to what is known as the privacy paradox. These patterns are usually effective because they exploit natural human tendencies. They play on our fears, biases, and desires in order to get us to do what they want. When they collect and store customer data, they are able to predict behaviors. Though data collection can be used in favorable ways for the consumer, this is not always the case.
Dark Patterns in Google and Facebook
For example, researchers found that Facebook and Google’s default settings were intrusive and designed to pull focus from alternatives. In addition to this, Facebook was criticized by journalists for its poor GDPR settings interface, which allegedly tricked users into blindly accepting certain settings. Facebook showed fake red notification badges to users, requiring users to accept unfair terms in order to see what the notifications were.
So, despite the fact that we’re more aware of online privacy issues than ever before, we’re still not taking action to protect ourselves, and Big Tech isn’t helping anybody make privacy-centric decisions. There’s a significant gap between people’s stated preferences for privacy and their actual behaviors online. And companies often capitalize on dark patterns to perpetuate the privacy paradox.
Falling into the Trap
Why is this? One theory is that we implicitly trust companies to do the right thing with our data. Another is that we simply don’t know how to go about protecting our privacy.
But there’s another possibility: we’re becoming numb to dark patterns. We see them so often that we’ve stopped noticing them. They’ve become the background noise of the internet.
This is a dangerous development because it means that companies can continue to use these techniques without consequence. So how can we fight back?
The first step is to educate ourselves about dark patterns. Once we know what they are, we can start to look out for them. Then, we can call it out when we see them being used.
This might seem like a small thing, but it’s crucial. Because if we don’t do something about dark patterns, we’re only going to become more and more numb to them. And that’s not good for anyone.
This reality highlights the need for more ethical design strategies that protect users’ privacy without taking advantage of them. We need to be more conscious of the ways we’re being manipulated and take action to fight back. Only then can we hope to create a better, more ethical internet for everyone.
How to Avoid Falling into the Privacy Paradox Trap
Sharing information with online services is the default. With companies finding new loopholes and sneaky practices as well as the increasingly complicated process of protecting your own privacy, there is a growing concern about the dangers of the online space. It is more important than ever before to advocate and shift towards “privacy by default.”
The idea behind “privacy by default” is that privacy options should be implemented as the default for any services and businesses. Consumers do not need to take any further action to protect their data. The choice to “opt-out” of privacy allows consumers can take control of their own information. They can decide for themselves whether they’d prefer to share the information.
Understanding the Default Effect
The power of defaults is a key concept in behavioral economics. It shows how crucial these types of opt-out policies are for consumers when making decisions. The term became popular in 2008 due to the book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness.
The default effect describes how an option being the default increases the chances of that option being selected compared to when that option is not being presented as the default. This happens for a variety of reasons including:
- Cognitive effort – the effort required to switch between options may be high
- Switching cost – the time and effort an individual must put in to determine the better option
- Loss aversion – people pick choices that seem to affect them less negatively because they interpret options relative to the default choice
- Recommendation – the default option is viewed as a recommendation
- Change of meaning – a default option can frame a situation differently, leading to differences in choices of the options
Applications of the Default Effect
This is a familiar idea within the context of organ donation. With the “opt-out” system, organ donation is assumed to be the default unless the individual explicitly chooses not to. This policy contrasts with the “opt-in” system, which automatically assumes individuals don’t want to donate unless they registered for organ donation. The “opt-in” system requires individuals to specifically “opt-in” to become donors. After adopting the “opt-out” policy, organ donations increased. The decrease in shortages led to more saved lives Something as simple as changing the default choice is extremely powerful and makes significant differences.
It is important to advocate for the same type of policy when it comes to privacy. Our current system of having to “opt-in” for privacy revolves around consumers putting in extra effort to understand and avoid information usage. Even then, in some cases, companies make it virtually impossible for consumers to use their use certain features or services without agreeing to certain terms.
We must push for privacy-friendly default settings to be automatically implemented in all systems. Users should have the option to “opt-out” of this default if they choose to. Companies must be held accountable for protecting consumers who use their services. Individuals should not be responsible for protecting their information when using different services.
Our Take on the Privacy Paradox
What we discovered at Privatyze when building our company was that people think privacy should be the default — as consumers, protecting our privacy shouldn’t involve taking an extra step or an additional subscription. Companies should make privacy options the default
At Privatyze, we believe that using a service and owning your own privacy should never be conflicting concepts. This is why we’ve looked into developing a way for Privatyze users to own and control their data and digital privacy. We strive to create a world where data is yours, and data usage only occurs when you have given companies explicit consent to view and use it.
View our blog on Data Privacy 101: A Beginners Guide to find what steps you can take to protect your data.
Take control of your data, privacy, and digital identity today at privatyze.io