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What Exactly Are We Trying to Keep Private on the Internet?




Most people would think twice about typing their social security number into an online profile, but what about your driver’s license number? What about your grades? The organizations that you work for or even your mother’s maiden name?

The Center for Media Design at Ball University conducted a very interesting study about what kinds of information people are willing to share. Rather than hand out a questionnaire, they asked the students to write down categories of personal information on slips of paper. Then they had them drop the slips into boxes based on how comfortable they would be sharing that information.

What they found right at the start was that everyone had a different idea about what was personal. For some, it was labeling information such as ID numbers, others thought that if you wanted it kept a secret then it was personal, while others thought more generally about things such as preferences, relationship status and life experiences.

When it came time to add the slips of paper to the comfortable, cautious or not going to share that box, more questions arose. Who is going to see the information? Once I give you the information will you keep it to yourself or will it be public? What exactly are you going to do with the information once you get it?

What you see here is a representation of their results.

The actual graphic at the CMD site is interactive, so you’ll want to visit there when you’re done here so you can look at the details. But here’s an overview.

In the red zone, you’ll find obvious things like social security numbers and medical information. But you’ll also find mother’s maiden and information about children. Participants were concerned about sharing family details that could be linked to passwords. People were happy to share their sexual preference but not their sexual history which landed squarely in the red zone.

Politics, religion and opinions all landed in the yellow and green zones which is surprising ,but all criminal and disciplinary information was off the table.

What’s important to note here is that privacy is a huge concern for all internet users and that’s something you need to be mindful of when interacting with potential customers. A verification program that asks for something as simple as the name of your best friend from childhood is enough to raise red flags. This is why it’s so important to clearly state your privacy rules, how you collect information and what you’re going to do with it and then stick with those rules. A customer in need of supplies may be willing to share their medical history online but they won’t be a customer for long if they find out that their information is being sold or mishandled.

Visit The Stop and Go of Data Flow for more information about privacy expectations on the internet.