Americans have walked a fine line on privacy in the internet age.
Taking constant pictures with iPhones is considered normal, while wearing Google Glass creeps people out. Facebook’s data analysis is OK; the National Security Agency’s isn’t.
A study released on 14 January by the Pew Research Center explains these seeming contradictions by concluding that Americans often are willing to give up some level of privacy if there is a perceived tangible benefit, at least to a point.
The survey results suggest companies such as Metromile, a San Francisco-based insurance startup that installs a tracking device in consumers’ cars, and Alphabet’s Nest team, which makes a smart thermostat, have work to do to make consumers comfortable with sharing more data.
The report is based on a survey of 461 US adults and nine online focus groups with 80 participants conducted last winter. It found that 54% of respondents would be OK with their offices adopting security cameras to stop petty theft, even if the employers also plan to keep the cameras for performance assessments. Nearly a quarter found such an arrangement unacceptable and 21% said it depends on circumstance.
On the other hand, only 37% said it would be acceptable for car insurance companies to install a tracking device that gathers data on driving habits in exchange for lower rates.
That scenario isn’t hypothetical: Metromile offers pay-per-mile insurance if consumers install a GPS device that counts miles, and Progressive is experimenting with whether such a tracker could be used to monitor speeders. Around 45% said such an arrangement is unacceptable and 16% said it would depend. Meanwhile, when Pew told respondents about a hypothetical thermostat that would automatically adjust room temperature as they moved around their homes, 55% said this wouldn’t be acceptable compared with 27% of whom said it would.