Back in 1999, Scott McNealy of Sun famously told a group of reporters and analysts “You have zero privacy. Get over it.”

At the same time Josh Harris launched his human fishbowl experiment “We Live in Public,” which eerily anticipated today’s era of Twitter and Facebook. The story has recently been made into a movie I’m hoping to see.

When Jeff Patterson and I started Visible Path (now Hoovers Connect) in 2003, privacy concerns often dominated in personal and professional circles, and we built more and more features in the software to safeguard privacy.

Today, as folks broadcast more and more of their lives publicly, I’ve wondered if attitudes and concerns about privacy had markedly shifted. To check, I ran a quick market survey and was surprised by some of the results:

People are still very concerned about privacy

Across the board – gender, marital status, geographic location, and occupation, people were very concerned about privacy. The bullets below refer to the percentage of folks that ranked themselves as “very concerned” about a topic, the highest level on a 5 point scale:

  • 34.9% of all parents were “very concerned” (top box) about
    “inappropriate info about my child appearing online”
  • 31.7% of all respondents were “very concerned” about “Inappropriate
    info about me appearing online”
  • 42.6% of all respondents were “very concerned” about “My
    personal information being collected and sold”
  • 33.7% of all respondents were “very concerned” about “Undesirable
    info about me appearing in search results”

Younger people are as concerned as older people
prevailing wisdom seems to be that younger generations are not only more comfortable with new technologies, but less concerned about privacy, but this wasn’t supported by the data. Although concern did increase modestly in older demographics, concern in the 17-24 year old group was still high:

Privacy Charts

There is high demand for privacy services
Around the same time I was thinking about this topic, I discovered into a company called ReputationDefender advertising for a VP Marketing. The company offers privacy services (roughly $9.95 to $14.95 per month) called MyChild, MyReputation, MyPrivacy, MyEdge that aim to address each of the concerns I described above. I asked the same survey set whether or not they would subscribe to these services, and found that the demand correlated well to the concerns described above:

  • 11.6% of parents would “definitely” sign up for a service that would scan the web for references to children and package it for parents:

  • 12.9% of respondents would “definitely” sign up for a service that would scan the web for references to them and provide help and assistance on how to remove unwanted content

  • 19.8% of respondents would definitely sign up for a service that searched online databases and helped them remove their personal information

* Important to note that my description of the service did not include price; demand for services at any price point is likely to be lower.

As a side note, a few funny facts emerged

  • Large gender discrepancies existed in the demand for services that protected a child’s privacy. 21.7% of parents with one
    female child would “definitely” sign up, while virtually no parents
    with one male child would “definitely” sign up
  • Demand for services that protect a child’s privacy go down steadily and rapidly among parents with more children. For parents with 3+ children, demand was very low</

Bottom Line: Wrapping up, I think there is a strong argument that an increasing comfort with the technologies that allow us to live, connect and share publicly is coupled with an increasing concern about the long term implications. It’s a big problem that still needs to be solved.

Last but not least, if you would like a copy of the survey summary and analysis, please let me know in the comments and I will email you a copy.

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