Why don’t smart people care about online privacy?

When I was in law school, one of the projects that got me into design & tech-based work was the challenge of “How to make online tracking and privacy threats more transparent to Internet users?” This big question was part of a Harvard-Stanford law school class, on ‘Big Challenges of the Internet’ — in which I worked on project teams with Mozilla engineers, and also with the dispersed-social network start-up Diaspora.

One of my big takeaways from the class was how difficult it is to get users ‘engaged & activated’ when it comes to their online privacy — whether its in setting their preferences, refusing to use bad-practicing companies, blocking trackers, or voicing concern to the companies doing the tracking. I’ve been looking back through my notes from the class & saw some of my notes for possible designs to increase user engagement with privacy matters — as well as class feedback on these concepts.

Online Privacy - why dont smart people care

These comments are all from other JDs and computer scientists in the class — all pushing back, saying they don’t personally care about their privacy online & don’t think many other people will either. I can’t say these reactions are unusual either. I’ve seen a lot of burnout from other lawyers, scholars, and students, who don’t want to work on privacy issues with the thought that lots of have been tried, not much has worked, and people just don’t care about their privacy.

One of my new projects is going to be revisiting privacy policies & other business-to-individual legal communications. I’m thinking now of how to get over this apparent hurdle of people tuning out privacy matters, not reading terms of service, and declining to engage with legal info that’s offered up to them.

I’m thinking about what other ways to frame topics like ‘privacy’ and ‘terms of service’, to make them more resonant, and grounded in real human experiences & scenarios. I’m imagining ways to give more choice & action opportunities to the user along with the legal info. If disclosure of legal information by itself is not going to have much effect on engaging users & getting them to follow through on protecting their own apparent interests — what are other ways to frame & present legal info that would?

Here are some more of my notes & sketches from a few years ago, for the online privacy law-design class.

online privacy legal design notes

sketchnote on legal design and online privacy

sketchnote on legal design and online privacy 2

sketchnote on legal design and online privacy 3

sketchnote on legal design and online privacy 4

sketchnote on legal design and online privacy 5