Where’s the line between privacy and information sharing?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Privacy is a unique commodity. As individuals, we expect privacy in some aspects of our lives, while in other aspects we have no problem with sharing personal information. At what point is the line drawn about what information should be shared? And when should it be protected and private?

I am reminded of a writing lesson I developed with my students in a community college class. After reading brief articles about radio-frequency identification (RFID) and security cameras employed at public high schools, students were asked to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of each technology. I assigned students different roles – administrators, parents, students, and staff/faculty members. I asked them to imagine themselves in these different roles and come up with reasons to support the installation or adoption of either RFID (badges for students) or security cameras in classrooms. What were some possible reasons to oppose one of the technologies? And support the other?At the center of this lesson was an examination of balancing privacy and safety, and students were able to think more deeply about the subject rather than reducing it to a broad generalization about the inevitability of omnipresent surveillance or a resistance to all attempts at surveillance.

The complex relationship between privacy, safety, and sharing was discussed in a way that allowed students to see perspectives that may have differed from their own, and they were able to see that there were positive and negative trade-offs in choosing one over another. Pew Research Center found that attitudes towards information sharing and technology were complex, just like the attitudes of my students, in their research report on Privacy and Information Sharing. In the report, authors Lee Rainie and Dana Page (2016), give six hypothetical scenarios and ask participants if the conditions for sharing information were acceptable, unacceptable, or if it depended on additional factors.

One scenario involved installing cameras with facial recognition technology to curb the occurrence of workplace thefts. Under the conditions outlined, 54% of participants found the installation of the cameras acceptable, while 24% found it unacceptable, and 21% said “it depends.” Read more about the office surveillance cameras scenario here. I found it surprising that so many people were willing to be recorded with facial recognition technology that was stored for an indefinite amount of time. I agreed with the minority who found it unacceptable. Among those who said yes, there was an attitude of resignation about being watched, as one participant noted, “My employer could choose to do this, but I might be unhappy about it. The boss is the boss.” Those who found it unacceptable perceived it as an intrusion into the workplace and that it had the potential to be misused, “This could very easily be abused and would hinder performance if every employee felt surveilled all the time.”

Clearly there is no simple answer to how individuals perceive sharing and protecting information, but as technology continues to advance and provide the ability to collect more information, the question that needs to follow is should we?

4 thoughts on “Where’s the line between privacy and information sharing?

  1. Hi,

    Your post reminded me of an article I read that mentions how low income people have less access to privacy. I’ve read different variations of the article (one of them is below) that essentially say that using public wifi, signing up for the movie tickets in exchange for your personal information, not paying for add-free content and so on make it so that the rich can pay for privacy while the poor are left wide open.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/25/opinion/privacy-poverty.html

    • emmortal01 says:

      @danielaleyva Thanks for the comment. I enjoyed reading the article you shared. I think it’s important that researchers pay more attention to the lack of confidence low-income folks and other marginalized groups have in safeguarding their information. That was one point that I was curious about in the Pew report I read – I thought that maybe those who expressed a resigned inevitability of surveillance were those who lacked options for changing jobs whereas those who were adamant about no surveillance might have been higher wage earners or more educated. I wonder if such data has been collected in other reports similar to Pew’s.

  2. This is a complex and far-reaching issue. My own thoughts on privacy have evolved over the years from the height of social media to the more cautious current days. Thanks for exploring it for this post!

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