Would you trade Personal Information, such as ‘when you are home’ and ‘in what rooms’, to save a few bucks on your energy bill, even if it meant sending this data to a distant tech company? This is one of the hypotheticals laid out in a new report from Pew Research Center, which found that more than half of the 461 adults it surveyed couldn’t stomach the idea of.
But thermostats that collect data on people aren’t hypothetical. In fact, they’re quickly becoming the standard: by 2017, market research firm Parks Associates estimates more than half of the thermostats sold in the United States will be “smart.” One of the biggest players in this market is “Nest”, which is offered by Google with parent-company Alphabet, that make much of its revenue by tracking our behavior and selling us targeted ads.
So why the disconnect between thermostats and Americans’ distrust of the data that makes them work better? Part of the answer may be that consumers don’t understand what they’re giving up when they pick up that shiny new device.
Lee Rainie, lead author of the report said, “Modern life is really a life of almost ceaseless transactions like this.” These little tradeoffs happen with almost every online click, when using a smartphone, or even getting on a bus.
Often, the benefits to giving up your data are obvious: Cheaper energy bills or convenience of a swipe into a transit system. But the potential pitfalls can be more abstract. For example, it’s hard to tell what consequences you’ll face if a company is tracking your web browsing today.
Still, consumers show a paranoia about how their data may someday be used against them. “There’s a very strong sense that people don’t know the details of [these deals] and that makes them unnerved,” said Rainie.
To help understand how people judge these trade-offs, Pew laid out a handful of different situations in its latest report. Answers suggest that Americans do not view the tracking of personal data as an all-or-nothing proposal.
Car insurance companies offering discounts, just like smart thermostats, this is something that’s already happening: Firms like Progressive and Liberty Mutual have programs that ask people to give up detailed information about their driving habits in exchange for a discount. Focus group responses to these scenarios hit respondents close to home.
“They don’t like the idea of places that used to seem very private, like their homes or their cars, being monitored.” And because these are practices already commonplace, respondents may have already had to think through the implications.
Indeed, a recent Accenture study of 28,000 consumers in 28 counties found that security and privacy concerns are among the top reasons why people did not buy smart home and wearable products. Nearly half of respondents, 47%, cited this concern. Of those who would buy smart devices, nearly a quarter told Accenture that concerns about security breaches delayed their plans to do so. And 18% said this worry prompted them to stop using smart devices altogether.
However, Pew posed a scenario that elicited a different response. The group was asked, if someone was stealing personal belongings from your workplace, would it be ok if the company installed a camera system with facial recognition technology to catch the thief – even if the company could keep the footage and the feeds could also be used to track employee attendance and performance? By a two-to-one margin, 54% to 24%, people said that arrangement was acceptable.
Previous Pew surveys have found that few people feel they have much control over how data collected about them is collected or used. In this latest report, they noted that focus groups were “much more likely to speak of the darker side of personal information tradeoffs” than their benefits.
One participant said, “I really think that the next generation will not even understand the value of privacy. Privacy will be a thing of the past.”
Read Article (Peterson & Tsukayama | washingtonpost.com | 01/14/2016)
The issue of who controls our personal data has never been more critical. And more and more people are realizing this control begins – in the palms of their own hands.
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