Simon Davies wrote an interesting blog post on “Why I’ve stopped caring about what the public thinks about privacy” in which he explains the trap of advocates for any social benefit caring too much about whether there is majority support for their position. I agree with him that privacy advocates who understand the importance of privacy rights and privacy practices should not despair when faced with survey after survey after experiment in which many people, often a majority, either state they don’t care very much about their privacy or demonstrate through action that even if they care about privacy, they ware willing to give it up for a small perceived benefit. However, I think Simon’s article needs further consideration. Of course those of us who see the importance of privacy should not give up our advocacy. However, we should understand where the apathy or even hostility to privacy rights comes from. We need solid empirical research on this and good conceptual presentations of why it happens. Only then can we try to apply force to the right levers to improve everyone’s access to privacy.

My own work on the psychological impact of social network site affordances shows some of the reasons why people’s responses to surveys show that they have limited their desire for privacy. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that in order to maintain their sanity in the face of peer pressure and network effects pushing them into using things like Facebook, including using their “legal name” and having most things open on there, is to downgrade their privacy perceptions. If we can push back against the privacy invasive nature of these systems, giving people technological, legal and economic possibilities to connect without exposure, then I am sure that their reported perceptions of privacy will swing back.