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    MSNBC: Why should I care about digital privacy?

    MSNBC has an article about online privacy and its importance:

    Welcome to the world of privacy experts like Larry Ponemon and Alessandro Acquisti. Their chosen field of work is an area where research can be pretty depressing. Consumer behavior shows, repeatedly, that people just don’t care about privacy, no matter how much lip service they might give to the topic. Ponemon’s research shows that most U.S. adults — 60 percent —claim they care about privacy but will barely lift a finger in an effort to preserve it. They don’t alter Facebook privacy settings, they don’t complain when supermarkets demand their phone numbers and they certainly don’t insist on encrypted e-mail. LosHuertos’ experiment underscores this point well. Even people who have experienced a “privacy mugging” often don’t change their behavior.

    While Congress and the Federal Trade Commission mull over the first real federal effort to protect Americans’ privacy in the digital age, msnbc.com is trying to kick-start the conversation and draw attention to the prickly topic. In this series, Wilson Rothman is speaking to the crowd that deliberately doesn’t care about privacy ; Helen Popkin, to that small group of privacy elites who go to some trouble to avoid sharing information with government agencies and corporations. I’m starting off the third piece by addressing the largest group, the people in the middle who say they care, but contradict themselves daily with privacy-eroding choices.

    Privacy policy in our country, and the fate of many corporations, will be decided by this big group in the middle — a group that includes nearly two out of every three U.S. adults — that Ponemon calls “privacy neutral.” The challenge that privacy advocates face — and frankly, I face while writing this article — is to convince these middle-of-the-roaders that privacy matters, and they really should do at least the bare minimum to keep themselves safe and preserve this basic human right before it’s too late. […]

    Acquisti likes to stick up for consumers who might seem either too lazy or too disinterested to make changes to daily routines or Internet usage that might preserve their privacy.

    “On one end is attitude, and on the other is behavior, but in between there are many steps. It’s not obvious what you should do to protect your privacy,” said Acquisti, who studies the intersection of privacy and economics at Carnegie-Mellon University. “And the more technology savvy among us have this feeling that we’re giving it up, but we realize it is close to impossible to protect your personal information, not even if you start living like the Unabomber in a cabin. If you want to function as a normal person in society you have to.”

    For many, he thinks, there is a sense of learned helplessness — the feeling that their privacy is lost anyway, so why go through the hassle of faking a supermarket loyalty card application? For others, the decision tree is so complex that it’s no surprise they usually take the easier option.

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