New survey shows majority people see online privacy as shared responsibility

Timed to coincide with world Data Privacy Day (also known as Data Protection Day in Europe) yesterday (28 January), Microsoft has released the results of a new survey aimed at finding out   what its customers want when it comes to privacy and control of their data.

The survey was conducted in the US, Belgium, France, and Germany and the results are divided into US and EU categories. If would like to look at the survey yourself, it is available from here.

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The first result shows that in both the US and EU the majority of people think that privacy is primarily a matter of individual responsibility, although it is striking how evenly divided between individuals, companies, and governments  the figures are.

Unsurprisingly, Americans are less likely to look to their government for privacy safeguards than Europeans. This may in part be due a loss of trust in the US government following the NSA scandals, although it should be noted that philosophically the US has always tended to favour a more ‘hand-off’ approach to government that is common in Europe.

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When it comes to how tech companies are expected to protect privacy, both Americans and Europeans show a worrying trend towards favoring ease of use over more robust privacy measures such as increased transparency and easily understood and used privacy controls. This puts a great deal of trust in companies, something the recent Edward Snowden revelations, plus growing awareness at just how intrusive commercial internet companies’ customer surveillance and tracking methods are, have clearly demonstrated is deeply misplaced.

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Americans are clearly more willing to place ease-of use over privacy issues when it comes to performing routine activities online, although even in the EU many also prize functionality over privacy. Microsoft also notes that ‘technology elites estimate they have about 50% control over the way their information is used online.’

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When it comes to reading the small print, it comes as little surprise that most people don’t bother to read it carefully, which given privacy policies are often written in near incomprehensible jargon, deliberately designed to deflect interest is, again, hardly surprising.


The conclusion that Microsoft draws from the study is that ‘for the most part people feel they have limited control over how their data is used online (53 percent of the time in the US and 43 percent of the time in Europe) and are interested in understanding how their information is being used.’

We however are somewhat more worried about how much trust users in both the US and EU are willing to put in the hands of governments and corporations who have shown time and time again that they simply cannot be trusted with our privacy. In addition to this, the fact that so many value an easy life over a private one is deeply disturbing.

Until individuals are willing to take responsibility (backed up with robust measures) for their own privacy, how can we expect governments and companies to do anything else but exploit us?

Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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