Trading Your Privacy For Safety (infographics)
No one likes being spied on, right? Most people would not be appreciative of having someone standing outside their window and watching their every move for reasons that shouldn’t need to be listed off. That’s why we use window shades and install alarm systems alongside a whole host of other safety measures to keep ourselves safe and to maintain some privacy. What happens when you’re given a choice between your safety and your privacy, though?
There’s been no shortage of data leaks and hacks like SolarWinds or the Facebook hack that left 533 million users’ data exposed just from the start of this year. That’s not even to mention the rise in phishing scams since everyone has been glued to their screens for a year now. We now find ourselves asking the question of trading off some privacy for safety. The last few years have seen major strides to protect our privacy online, but it can be argued that the less can be seen or tapped into by agencies like the NSA, the less protected we are in the long-term from incidents like the Facebook leak. The risk of real damage done to people’s lives is ever present, but how much data collection is too much?
In order to determine how people feel about data collection and government surveillance, SafeHome surveyed over 1,000 U.S. citizens about how they view their safety and privacy in relation to internet usage. They found that the majority of people think large institutions take surveillance too far and that safety and privacy are to be valued equally, though they’d be willing to trade privacy for the sake of safety.
Making The Choice: Safety or Privacy?
More and more institutions collect a variety of data from us and store it for later use, but the type of data being collected and the context in which it’s being collected are important to consider. For example, it’s possible to this day - even after being exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013 - that the NSA can collect data from and monitor U.S. citizens when they feel it’s necessary. On the other hand, we’re fully aware that social media apps and service providers like Facebook and Google constantly collect our data to provide us with more accurate advertisements and convenient shopping experiences. Which case is more appropriate than the other and why?
48% of Americans admit to valuing privacy and safety equally and less than 15% combined fall on either extreme end of the spectrum. This makes it clear that most of us would prefer to not make any big tradeoffs, but if that’s not an option then what do people feel is a worthy exchange? 68% of people said they’re willing to trade off their privacy in general, but the specifics break down like this:
Safety - 56%
Better Quality of Life - 46%
Access To Technology - 31%
Convenience - 31%
People’s priorities are in the right place, but how closely does the reality of the situation line up?
All-in-all, people feel moderately safer (29%) with modern tech; 81% think smart home surveillance keeps us safer and 68% think that surveillance in businesses keeps people safer. That said, most of us don’t feel we have any control over what data about us is collected, who sees it, or how it’s used. A concerning 86% of people feel they have no control over the way their data is used and 84% think they can’t control who is able to collect that data in the first place. Not only that, but 61% think the sort of large institutions interested in data collection take it too far.
Leave It To Law Enforcement
So if we know that it’s virtually impossible to keep our data completely private then who do we trust to do the right thing with it? It probably isn’t surprising that essentially no one thinks we should trust tech companies with our data; their sole purpose is to use our data to maximize their profits through advertising and since we all know they harvest their users’ data, they’re large walking bullseyes for skilled hackers both domestically and overseas. To bolster this point even outside of tech, there isn’t a single category of institution that broke 50% on the trust scale; local police were deemed most trustworthy with 38% of citizens vouching for them.
Data collection and surveillance in policing makes sense; they need to keep information catalogued and organized in order to properly solve crimes and those records can always come in handy down the road. Police forces have worked to keep up with the times in the same way that other industries have, implementing new tech like smart sensors, body cams, and a few other forms of surveillance. These devices not only put us closer to predictive policing - a current buzzword but possible reality for better or worse - but they also work to keep both citizens and officers accountable and safe when used correctly.
Of course, some tech works better than others and people’s support varies. The SafeHome study found that the most desired surveillance technologies for policing are body cams/mics (62%), traffic cameras (57%), and surveillance cameras (48%) while the least desirable are AI judges and sentencing (6%), autonomous robot police (13%), and wearable tech (13%). This makes sense given the most acceptable tech all entails capturing events exactly as they occurred, while the least desired completely removes the human element from the equation.
Is It Worth It?
Though we see strides to keep our data safer like the Protecting Americans’ Data from Foreign Surveillance Act from senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the question of avoiding data collection altogether is nonexistent. It’s a part of our daily lives with a constantly expanding web of tech, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful or draw boundaries. While 32% of U.S. citizens are somewhat concerned about modern surveillance, 21% feel significantly safer because of it and 81% feel safer due to smart home surveillance tech which we see more and more of. While losing out on privacy is not ideal, the numbers speak for themselves on what people are willing to trade it for.