Changing privacy expectations?

As Miriam Simun from our Digital Natives team is off this morning to present our research findings on digital natives and their attitudes towards privacy at the Harvard CRCS Privacy and Security seminar series, news comes from Italy that the Agenzia delle Entrate – the department of revenue – has made available online for all to see citizens’ annual incomes, searchable by anyone with an Internet connection. After a few hours the site was up it got clogged with requests, while protests started to come in for the breach of tax payers’ privacy. The Garante della Privacy intervened later in the day to stop the data from being released online.

What’s interesting about this story is that one might expect general outrage at the revenue department’s initiative to make such highly personal data public. But a quick look at two online opinion polls published by two of the major national newspapers shows that the outrage is not as widespread as it might be believed. At the time of writing this, sixty four percent of the readers who replied to the poll answered that they saw nothing wrong with the initiative – while 34 percent of respondents replied that making data available online was too much (La Repubblica). A poll by another newspaper, il Corriere della Sera – shows slightly different results, with 52 percent of respondents agreeing with the initiative to make the data available online.

While these polls are in no way representative, they are nonetheless indicative of a shared feeling that if personal data is made available online in order to increase transparency, then loss of privacy should be seen as acceptable. I was surprised – but less so when I put these results in context of our findings from our Digital Natives project. We live increasingly in a surveillance society where data is constantly collected about us from different technologies without people being necessarily aware of it – at the same time, we are increasingly sharing details of our personal lives online. Amongst the young people we’ve interviewed for our project, there is some awareness that loss of privacy is the trade off for living increasingly connected lives online. Clearly the tide cannot be stopped – what’s needed is a concerted effort to address these issues from an educational, technical and legal architecture standpoint in order to educate people (and institutions) on how to navigate this new world.

About Corinna

Corinna di Gennaro (BSc LSE; MPhil, DPhil, Oxon) is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, at Harvard Law School.
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