I come across the term ‘value’ a lot in my day-to-day PhD exploration, but we can talk about value in two ways: in the economic and the ideological sense.
Put it this way, “data is the new oil” and “we don’t pay for services with money, but with data” determines personal data as an asset class, something that we give in exchange for goods/services.
Values are also intrinsic principles that underpin our behaviours; they are situational and can be ordered, this means that in some contexts one value might be more important than another and thus behaviours will favour one value over another.
In a post 9/11 shift towards preventative terrorism, government surveillance in the name of ‘national security’ gives way to the notion of “if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear”. This serves as an illustrative case when our values are set against one another and require ordering by their situational importance to individuals and society. Everyone has privacy values to a certain extent; people have their preferences over what information they want to share with whom. People also fear terrorism and values national security to help prevent attacks. In the interest of lowering risk to terrorist attacks (which statistically are very low), values of privacy are compromised. It doesn’t mean that people don’t care about their privacy, but that they value their safety more.
I know that this is a very controversial topic to use, since security and privacy usually go hand in hand; the more control we have over our information (privacy) the more likely we are to reduce security harms such as financial fraud etc.
When considering personal data as an economic class, a recent study has demonstrated that when individuals have a market awareness of their personal data, they are more likely to assign a higher monetary value to it (Spiekermann & Korunovska, 2017). Similarly, when individuals are made aware of how much personal data is collected and how it is used, privacy concern typically increases (Nissembaum, 2004), but then decreases when they find mitigating techniques to better control data flows (Bansal et al., 2010).
My empirical research to date demonstrates that patients with a chronic illness (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) are typically unaware of what data is collected and how it is used by social media platforms. Patients have observed the connection between their browsing history and advertising, but did not describe an undersanding of the data-flows between themselves and the advert.
This unawareness is to be expected, but what patients value are the therapeutic affordances that social media platforms enable online health communities: self-presentation, connection, exploration of knowledge and sharing narratives. The feedback loop between self-disclosing health information on Facebook Groups or on Instagram and receiving socio-emotional support is clear and tight. The feedback loop of what sharing sensitive information is with commercially-orientated social media platforms is much more obfuscated. This obfuscation lends itself to a distancing between individuals and the potential, but speculative, threats.
It’s not that privacy is not valued though, it is. Patients decribed their behaviours that align with their privacy principles; they clearly articulated their social privacy concerns and the mitigating actions they take to restrict particular audiences from access the information that they wish to communicate.
Whether it is understanding the economic market or having a clear grasp of the impacts of personal data use by social media platforms; what appears to change the perception of value (whether that privacy values being ordered more highly, or placing a higher economic figure) is knowledge. Fortunately for us, investigative journalism and research are taking a closer look at data flows and communicating this with the public; whether this has an impact on individual perceptions and behaviours is another matter, given third-party syndrome (when people believe that something won’t happen to them, car accidents etc) — but that’s for another time.
Bansal, G., Zahedi, F., & Gefen, D. (2010). The impact of personal dispositions on information sensitivity, privacy concern and trust in disclosing health information online. Decision Support Systems.
Nissembaum, H. (2004). Privacy as Contextual Integrity. Washington Law Review.
Spiekermann, S., & Korunovska, J. (2017). Towards a value theory for personal data. Journal of Information Technology (2017) 32, 62–84. doi:10.1057/jit.2016.4