Humans are irrational, and companies exploit that

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Today, we’d like to present an excerpt from a recent blog post from Alison Black, titled “respecting digital privacy.”

“It may be that we are all on the brink of serious uncooperative experiences with the web tools we use. Commentators have suggested that the Facebook Beacon fracas was but the tip of an iceberg. But, unfettered by strict rationality, most of us surf optimistically, join in and enjoy web experiences.

Getting inside people’s decision-making, to inject caution before commitment is likely to be extremely difficult (even with well-understood hazards, such as smoking and alcohol, health educators have difficulty getting their message across). But given that there is a likelihood that many people will continue to act humanly and, therefore, incautiously, there is an opportunity for companies to commit openly to respectful data handling. It may cramp their style for trading data in the future, but as more companies commit themselves to rigorous standards, those that don’t will stand out. Maybe this contrast could pique people’s consciousness just enough for them to ask ‘whatever they’re offering, do I want to hand my data over to them?’”

Danah Boyd argues that many online users, particularly youth, do not ask these sorts of questions. Taking the recent outcry about Facebook Beacon as an example, she observes that:

“In each incident, Facebook pushed the boundaries of privacy a bit further and, when public outcry took place, retreated just a wee bit to make people feel more comfortable. In other words, this is “slippery slope” software development. Given what I’ve learned from interviewing teens and college students over the years, they have *no* idea that these changes are taking place (until an incident occurs). Most don’t even realize that adding the geographic network makes them visible to thousands if not millions. They don’t know how to navigate the privacy settings and they don’t understand the implications. In other words, defaults are EVERYTHING.

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