“Even though the awareness of online companies using consumer data for commercial purposes is growing, there is little change in behaviour when it comes to sharing information online.”

Social networking sites are evolving to be more than just a pastime — they are becoming tools people use to shape their own identity.

With the information available online, it is not difficult to collate details about a person, which in the past was ‘protected' by default.

Yet, survey findings by Ericsson Consumer Lab show that people are least inclined to share information about their medical records or financial situation. They feel safe sharing music playlists, religious beliefs and current mood with everyone, notes this report titled ‘Consumer Privacy in an online world.'

Driving force

The point of departure for the report is the continuous evolution of social media. And the driving force behind this development is the smartphone, which makes sharing even more convenient and accessible, even on the go.

According to International Data Corporation, an estimated 35 zettabytes (more than 1 trillion gigabytes) of digital records would be available worldwide by 2020.

“Even though the awareness of online companies using consumer data for commercial purposes is growing, there is little change in behaviour when it comes to sharing information online. Users trust the system and convenience prevails as long as no harm is inflicted on a personal level. They either don't think that they will get in jeopardy themselves or simply think the benefit of the Internet outweighs the risk of being subjected to privacy harm.”

“While there is increased awareness of privacy issues, there is still no sense of immediate urgency,” the report says.

Findings, however, reveal that the continuous evolution of social media and the growing number of devices used for accessing the Internet in the network society would put privacy high on the agenda in the information and communications technology industry.

“Privacy will become a hygiene factor for consumers in the near future. However, such awareness and concerns are lagging in relation to industry activities and technical development. Online privacy will thus not be a consumer-driven issue, rather an industry-driven one.”

Respondents seem to have indicated their willingness to pay for security and control, especially for services protecting their mobile phones from viruses and intrusion, as well as apps and services that lets the user have control.

lnr@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on March 13, 2012)
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