Is online privacy a right or a privilege?

Filed Under: Data loss, Featured, Privacy

shredding_moneyThat is the question of the day.

The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) - conducted some research to examine the economic dimension of privacy.

Put simply: would you pay a bit extra for additional privacy?

And this is how they tested it: they brought in subjects into a lab, and asked them to choose between movie tickets offered by two different companies. Both companies (Firm A and Firm B) requested personal information including name, date of birth and email addresses.

(They actually used a lie detector to ensure the participants provided accurate information here. Perhaps because I work in the industry, I found the request for the date of birth to be significant. I personally wouldn't part with this information easily, certainly not with a cinema ticket provider.)

If Firm A, whose ticket price here is identical to Firm B, requested more data from the subject, say a mobile number, eight out of ten flocked to buy tickets from Firm B.

No real surprise that we tend to prefer purchases that require us to give away less info.

But if Firm A offered to reduce the price of the movie ticket in exchange for the subject's mobile number, two thirds of the ticket buyers opted to provide their numbers to be awarded the discount. The study offered a discount of 50 (euro) cents for the mobile number, which worked out to a saving of about 17% of the price of the ticket.

So, their findings suggest that while we care about privacy, most of us are willing to do away with it if we can get a service at a cheaper price.

As ENISA put it in the conclusion of the report:

The laboratory experiment also shows that the majority of consumers buy from a more privacy-invasive provider if the service provider charges a lower price

The research led the team to offer a number of recommendations, including these two:

  • When there is no price difference, the competitor who requests less data from a customer can obtain a competitive advantage so long as it's obvious to the consumer
  • Online service providers should provide consumers different menus with respect to price and personal data requirements.

A white dry erase board with red marker, with the words Target Your CustomersPerhaps we need to think about putting a value on our private information. What is it worth?

Some stores are really cheeky, having their shop assistants ask their clientele boldly for postcodes and addresses before they make a purchase. I have heard countless people offer this up without asking them why they want it or where they will store it.

Loyalty cards are another way that we exchange vital shopping habits and demographic information with stores we frequent regularly. Question is, are we getting our money's worth?

Maybe rather than thinking about the discounts we can get for parting with our information, we should think about what we would pay to keep it safe?

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25 Responses to Is online privacy a right or a privilege?

  1. Alex · 1297 days ago

    Privacy is both a right AND a privilege. Our forefathers realized these facts, when our country was formed and they knew that our privacy required that we must make intelligent decisions when taking each new step forward...:-)...

  2. I think it is nuts to be extorted to keep our privacy,and I do not believe it would make any difference. Anyway,how much privacy can one expect,it is the Web. I get very contrary when merchants give me a hard sell,and I won't buy and won't purchase.

  3. outsidethemarginals · 1297 days ago

    It's not just economics; we may buy the cheaper more privacy-invasive ticket, but we may resent it and that resentment will not build loyalty when a game changing-competitor (Netflix, LoveFilm?) comes along.

    Likewise many of us allow the utility companies to put their grubby fingers directly in our wallets to extract direct debits in exchange for a bribe (£5 a quarter is about the going rate?), but do we like the utility companies or do we resent them?

    I pay slightly more for my telephone/ISP than I could if I was with BT on a direct debit (and an 18 month contract). When a competitor came along with one month contracts ("they keep us honest - because we know you can leave us") and no penalty for paying by bank transfer, my resentment of BT meant I moved at the first opportunity.

    Likewise with Banks; a lot flooded to First Direct when it opened - but a new entrant to the market (clear of the resentment against the big banks) might also scoop up a lot of business from the old players.

    Price may be a short term business winner - but may not work in the long-term if you take a cavalier attitude to your customers and their privacy.

  4. Furry · 1297 days ago

    I did not vote. Privacy is far more important to me than money - but I don't see why I should have to pay for it. Site owners should be grateful I come to their sites in the first place. If that isn't enough for them - tough.

  5. Bernard Madoff · 1297 days ago

    Please don't ask leading survey questions.

    Just ask Yes, No or Don't know.

    Don't add more dimension to the survey. If you ask - Yes, I want to pay more for privacy, you should also have a matching counteroption - No, privacy must not be an optional extra, not the option - No, I don't care about money.

    Jusy ask Yes, No or Don't know.

    Or always add the option - Abstain, this survey is unscientific and badly worded.

    • caroletheriault · 1296 days ago

      Point taken Bernard. If it is any assurance, we won't ever tout the poll as scientific or use it promote something - it is purely for our and our readers' interest.

      We are merely trying to get a feel for what our readers think. People who read us often care more about online security and privacy than the average person. It is a club, but one which I hope can influence those outside who are less knowledgeable and perhaps as a result more cavalier with personal data.

      • Jeremy · 1296 days ago

        And you failed. Because you didn't get what they think, you got what you led them to think.

  6. Thinking · 1297 days ago

    While I think I see where the framing of the questions are coming from I do not like the wording because it can so easily be construed as would you pay the normal price to retain privacy (see film ticket example in the article) or would you pay extra for your privacy (i.e. normal price + extra for privacy).

  7. dougit · 1297 days ago

    Online or not, privacy is a constitutional right, not a privilege.
    But privacy is not the same for everyone.
    This is in particularely true with phone numbers which are often advertised.
    So is the study significant of anything ?

    The question is are we able to decide what we disclose to whom and for what conterpart.

    Online industries often choose to not explain or ask.

  8. Mildred Hubble · 1297 days ago


  9. Jamie · 1297 days ago

    If you start posting up details about yourself on line then...aren't you sort of negating your right to "privacy". Like walking round your house naked, have the doors/blinds shut...if you walk around with the outside world able to see in, there's a good chance someone will look!?

    Although from the article

    "I found the request for the date of birth to be significant. I personally wouldn't part with this information easily, certainly not with a cinema ticket provider."

    Cinema's and movie theatres have age restriction on certain movies - thus why your DoB is being asked for.
    When it comes to maths, any birthday could be cracked within a matter of's only 365*45 (let's assume 45 is the "average" age of a person..I love being in my 20's ha ha ha)

    • caroletheriault · 1296 days ago

      Good point re the age restriction re movie content!

  10. Jim Hillier · 1296 days ago

    The problem with a survey such as this is that it is not operating in the real world. Many people might choose privacy over discounts in this scenario, where no actual/real savings are taking place. Put those same folk in a real world situation though and the result may be completely different - that's human nature.

    There is certain personal information I will not disclose under any circumstances - such as actual date of birth, I have passed up many an opportunity to save money because of what I consider overly intrusive information gathering.

    Here is Oz, very few details are required for proof of identity purposes - usually name, address and DOB. Anyone who has that information can be you.

  11. David · 1296 days ago

    FOr those who say privacy is irrelevant, I say send me your bank login ID and password please.

    Making decisions like this is a cost benefit assessment. One problem, leading to market failure, is that many of the costs and risks are not obvious. So a simple question like this needs to be supplemented by detailed explanation of the sorts of risks and abuses that coudl come about. If you put this in, Isuspect less people would agree.

    If so, this would suggest proper disclosure is an issue, and that well informed people will demand a much higher price or refuse to play than ignorant ones, such as the very young with limited experience.

  12. Sean · 1296 days ago

    How the devil did they draw that conclusion? Still 2/3s chose not to give away information with the discount.

  13. POLL FAIL · 1296 days ago

    Needs an answer amounting to "No - Any company that doesn't take my privacy seriously will not be getting my business."

  14. Jenn · 1296 days ago

    All sorts of websites ask your birthday. I lie to every single one of them. Granted, I use the same DOB, but it's always wrong. Most websites only need to confirm you're over a certain age anyway (12, 13, 18, etc.), in my late 20's, they don't need to know my DOB. Other than that, given the same two options, I'd have a hard time with the lie detecter because I'd rather not buy the ticket at all and go straight to the theatre to purchase it (and where they won't want my life story plus a blood sample for my right to purchase it).

  15. When a restaurant or shopping centre asks for my email address these days I give a leemail. This way they can reach me but a) I can turn that address off anytime I want b) if they willingly or unwillingly share it with third parties I'll know.

  16. be made by the individual, regardless of if one even recognizes it as such or not. Those (here and elsewhere) who think that privacy is some innate privilege or right are simply misguided into thinking that reality must bend to their opinions.

    Feel free to think what you like, but also feel free to read and understand all end user license agreements, terms and conditions, and privacy policies in their entirety. Accepting these policies without reading means that you either don't care about your privacy or that you don't understand what is at stake. Many free services (that you now expect to be so) will pay for operating costs by a combination of advertising and/or selling out your information. Those two are usually conjunctive. If you're privacy-frightened, beware anything free. No one made you sign up for this, or use that service, or whatever. Participation is voluntary, and consequences follow.

    I'm not talking about malware or crime; I'm talking about how businesses operate to provide a product or service, pay their expenses, and usually make some profit.

    Know your rights and privileges. Don't just make them up or claim one that doesn't exist, unless you're just discussing things academically as how you'd like things to be. Delusion is a common defense for the powerless or ignorant. "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." - H. L. Mencken (1916)

    Surely, actual rights are different in Europe; I don't really know. At very least, I know that Europeans are much better than United States at educating citizens of the impacts of privacy and how to protect themselves without delusional faith in what ought to be. We Americans are better at talking amongst ourselves, patting each other on the back, and being fooled into a communal sense of security.

    I waited on posting for a day because I tried coming up with a polite way of expressing a harsh and critical opinion: I could not. In the meantime, some idealistic misinformation that is offensive to me has been posted. I do not intend to inflame, but to rationalize. Perhaps I could not do that either. YMMV.

  17. ANONyMOUS · 1295 days ago

    Everyone has their own views on privacy, some people don't care and others would give money to keep their privacy away from others. I know for sure that I do want my privacy because you never know what they will do with your information or even how much they can damage your privacy

  18. Freida Gray · 1295 days ago

    To me the experiment itself didn't really seem to fit the hypothesis.The customers weren't online when they were offered the tickets,they were in line.I am very less likely to give out most personal info when I am online then when I am in line at a place that I have dealt with in the past on an in-person basis.

  19. ANONyMOUS · 1294 days ago

    I understand your point of view, but I would be the opposite or I wouldn't give out my personal information either way because some people may not be trusted.

  20. ANONyMOUS · 1292 days ago

    Privacy is privacy and everyone needs it no matter what.

  21. Nigel · 1279 days ago

    I never respond to polls whose questions force me to choose among answers that do not precisely state what I think, and why I think it. The questions themselves are defective. They make it impossible to respond in any way that's entirely truthful.

    In this case, I wouldn't pay anything, because I wouldn't surrender any personal data in exchange for "free" tickets. They're not free if they require me to provide information that can be used to compromise my privacy, steal my identity, or otherwise breach the security of my life, information, or other property.

  22. roy jones jr · 1053 days ago

    This isn't really related to the survey but: They will get your information one way or another. 100% privacy is a fallacy. Do you have a birth certificate? Then theres privacy loss right there.

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About the author

Hi. I am a social, brand and communications expert with 10 years in senior roles in the tech space. I'm currently Sophos' s Global Director of Social Media and Communities. Proudest work achievement? Creating and launching award-winning Naked Security. Outside work, I am a mean cook, an avid reader, a chronic insomniac, a podcast obsessive and blogger .