What's Your Level of Privacy Concern Online?

Are you a privacy fundamentalist, pragmatist, or unconcerned?

Posted Feb 22, 2016

Rob Pongsajapan/Flickr
Source: Rob Pongsajapan/Flickr

There are lots of ways to talk about privacy online, and many ways in which the data we share on social media can be used (beyond updating our friends and acquaintances). It may be fed to algorithms that target us with ads, sold to data aggregators, or used in experiments and other testing. It can also feed into features that personalize our experiences and improve the content we see.

Though the issue is complex, there are high level ways to think about how concerned you are about privacy. The Westin-Harris Privacy Concern Index categorizes people into three major categories: Privacy Fundamentalists, Privacy Pragmatists, and Privacy Unconcerned. 

Want to know your type? It's easy to find out - my lab has thrown up a quick 3-question survey will tell you your type (if you don't have a Twitter account, just enter "none" in the box on that page). 

Here are details about each, quoted from [1].

Privacy Fundamentalists (about 25% of the US public). This group sees privacy as an especially high value, rejects the claims of many organizations to need or be entitled to get personal information for their business or governmental programs, thinks more individuals should simply refuse to give out information they are asked for, and favors enactment of strong federal and state laws to secure privacy rights and control organizational discretion.

Privacy Pragmatists (about 55% of the US public). This group weighs the value to them and society of various business or government programs calling for personal information, examines the relevance and social propriety of the information sought, wants to know the potential risks to the privacy or security of their information, looks to see whether fair information practices are being widely enough observed, and then decides whether they will agree or disagree with specific information activities - with their trust in the particular industry or company involved a critical decisional factor. The Pragmatists favor voluntary standards and consumer choice over legislation and government enforcement. But they will back legislation when they think not enough is being done - or meaningfully done - by voluntary means.

Privacy Unconcerned (about 20% of the US public) This group doesn't know what the 'privacy fuss' is all about, supports the benefits of most organizational programs over warnings about privacy abuse, has little problem with supplying their personal information to government authorities or businesses, and sees no need for creating another government bureaucracy (a 'Federal Big Brother') to protect someone's privacy.


[1]  Krane, David, Laura Light, and Diana Gravitch. "Privacy on and off the Internet: What consumers want." Harris Interactive (2002).