Would You Surrender Your Privacy for A Chocolate Bar?

How valuable is your online privacy? Would you pay for it? Or would you, like some research subjects, surrender your computer password in exchange for a chocolate bar or a cup of premium coffee?

Tech critic Declan McCullagh used the occasion of Data Privacy Day 2010 to ponder these questions, contrasting the long, sad history of failed Internet startups that tried to sell individuals online privacy protections with the success of companies whose business models rely on invading individuals’ privacy and selling personally identifiable information.

Experts and pundits polled by McCullagh attempted to explain the phenomenon. The Cato Institute’s Jim Harper argues that people simply aren’t as sensitive to privacy concerns as some advocates believe, while Carnegie Mellon professor Alessandro Acquisti thinks that individuals do care about privacy, but give up trying to protect it when confronted with an overwhelming amount of complicated information about privacy, especially when protecting one’s privacy doesn’t provide an immediate benefit.

Not lost on McCullagh is the irony that one of the major sponsors of Data Privacy Day 2010 is Lexis-Nexis, who buys public records and personal data (and sometimes wrongfully discloses that personal data) and in turn sells software that promises to establish connections between people and to locate people instantly on behalf of law enforcement.

The full article is available online here.