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    Opinion column at CNet: It’s been 10 years: Why won’t people pay for privacy?

    At CNet, Declan McCullagh discusses the issue of fee-based privacy-protection services:

    Fast-forward 10 years, and a group of companies including Google, Microsoft, and Intel, along with some government agencies, have declared that January 28, 2010, is officially “Data Privacy Day.” The idea, according to the group’s Web site, is to spur the “development of technology tools to promote individual control over personally identifiable information.” […]

    [A] 2001 article in The Atlantic rattles off a list of companies that were hoping to attract privacy-sensitive Internet users. The list includes IDcide (dead), PrivacyX (defunct), American Express’ Private Payments (ditto), and Disappearing.com (you guessed it). […]

    That history raises the obvious question: Why won’t people pay for privacy? […]

    One possibility, of course, is that Internet users actually don’t care about privacy. Yes, they may tell pollsters they do, but more than 70 percent will reveal their computer password in exchange for a chocolate bar, as one BBC report described. Another informal survey, as reported by CNET at the time, found that 66 percent of supposedly tech-savvy San Franciscans will give up their passwords (or at least a phrase that might be their password) for a coffee at Starbucks. […]

    Another explanation is that people once cared more about privacy, and entrepreneurs circa 2000 properly captured that sentiment. But then as the Internet became more familiar, and as social-networking sites proliferated, everyone pretty much came to agree that the benefits of disclosure outweighed the privacy risks. […]

    Peter Eckersley, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says on privacy: “There are dozens of companies that are making a garage living or maybe more. The problem is if you choose to do business with one of those companies, there’s so little to guarantee you’re actually getting real privacy.” Online privacy is really hard to achieve, he says, and a programming error you don’t know about could expose your personal data to the world.

    And in fact it turns out that the privacy-protecting technologies that have prospered are noncommercial. There’s Adblock Plus, for which the source code is available at no cost. The Tor network, which offers reasonably strong anonymity, is free software using a network run by volunteers.

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