Consumers care most about SSN, less about college grades in privacy survey

A privacy survey ranks the Top 100 data points in terms of what information end-users care the most about keeping private. Also, Baby Boomers emerge as most privacy-sensitive group.
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

Consumers consider among their most sensitive data to be social security numbers, credit cards and personal identifiers, but care least about information related to their sexual orientation, religion, or educational history, according to a new survey from the Lares Institute.

In addition, the results show Baby Boomers (age 46-65) are the most privacy-sensitive demographic in the U.S. The report showed 83% of those in that age category rated their privacy sensitivity as “high” compared to only 67% of 18-25 year-olds.

The Lares Institute, a think tank focused on emerging technology and data governance, conducted the study in conjunction with APOC Worldwide, a communications and strategy firm.

The survey had users rank on a scale of 1-10 each of 100 data points that could be considered private information. The results were calculated using an average of the total score for each data point with social security numbers coming in at No. 1 while television-viewing information was ranked at No. 100.  (The top ten results are listed below).

The data is contained in a just released report entitled “Eye-of-the-Beholder: Operationalizing Privacy By Design Through The Power Of Consumer Choice.” 

The study was done in hopes of facilitating creation of a privacy “blueprint” categorizing the data end-users would most like to keep private.

For example, in terms of sensitivity to social media, the survey showed similar results across all age demographics, which perhaps shows users are thinking more about the implications of their data sharing. In the survey, 59% of 46-65 year-olds rated their social media sensitivity as “high,’ 24% rated it “medium” and 17% rated it “low.” The 26-45 year-old crowd also showed 59% of respondents rate as “high” their sensitivity to social media privacy. Among the 18-25 year-old demographic, sensitivity was “high” for 50%, “medium” for 25% and “low” for 25%.

In terms of specific data elements as voted on by all survey participants, a “high” rating of 7.08, on a scale of 1-10, was recorded for sensitivity to Web surfing history, 8.10 for disclosure of IP address, 8.05 for ID of calls and emails, and 8.33 for content of communications. On the low end, sensitivity to sharing gaming data was ranked at 4.98.

The set of three surveys were conducted with just more than 1,900 people in the United States. The information was presented as the first concrete rankings regarding consumer perceptions on specific data points.

The authors, privacy expert Andrew Serwin, and Tina Stow, a vice president at APOC, call out a privacy-by-design philosophy, which is a pro-active and user-centric belief that encourages privacy that is designed into product and services.

The authors built their study off of 2008’s “Privacy 3.0 – The Principle of Proportionality,’ which states that protections, use and other limitations related to information should be proportional to the sensitivity of data.

They also considered a range of studies; from the FTC’s 2012 release of “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change,” and conclusions reached in a key law review article written in 1890 by two legal scholars – Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeism – concerning “the right to be let alone.”

While privacy-by-design has helped advance the proportionality debate, there is not an existing “blueprint” to understand individuals’ subjective concerns about information.

The report is an attempt to jump start creation of such a bluerprint.

Top 10 data points survey respondents considered most sensitive.

1.  Social Security number

2.  Password or other personal identification number required to access an account or services

3.  Credit card or other account number, including information associated with a credit card

4.  Financial information, including income tax filings, and financial statements

5.  Any ID or number assigned to an individual, including account numbers, user IDs or passwords

6.  Payment card information (debit or credit card)

7.  Account balances

8.  Automated or electronic signatures

9.  Information from the computer chip, magnetic strip of a credit or other payment card

10.  Alien registration number, government passport number, employer identification number, taxpayer identification number, Medicaid account number, food stamp account number, medical identification number or health insurance identification number

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