What are the Dimensions of Privacy that Products Should Design for?

Privacy is a difficult concept to define, especially in the digital age. It can have a wide range of connotations depending on the contexts, relationships, and even products involved. In order to properly design privacy settings for tech, technologists need to research and understand the dimensions of privacy that are important to their users.

In our 2021 survey of consumers’ privacy preferences, we asked consumers what motivated them to change their privacy settings in the past three months. Their answers gave us insight into the dimensions of privacy that are meaningful to them. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it illustrates how and where privacy is on the mind of consumers today.

Privacy from other people:

  • On social media: “So people can’t just go looking through my photos, videos, information, etc.”
  • Strangers: “I didn’t want my data to be accessed by strangers”
  • The public: “I did not want my information to be shared to the public”
  • Employers: “Because I don’t want to easily be located online by my current or any future employers.”

Privacy from companies:

  • Discomfort with data collection practices: “Want companies to have less access to my data, don’t want data about me/my habits sold, don’t want anyone to have access to my online profiles without my express permission.”
  • Lack of trust in companies: “I don’t trust the companies.”
  • Discomfort with location tracking: “Turned off my location services on most apps because it’s none of their damn business where I am.”
  • Discomfort with data being sold: “To make sure my data wasn’t being sold.”
  • Discomfort with being tracked: “So they don’t track my life.”
  • Dislike of advertisements: “To stop seeing on certain apps ads for products I have looked up on the web. Creepy!”
  • Dislike of spam: “I received too many spam phone calls, emails, and text messages.”
  • Dislike of junk mail: “I don’t want telemarketer get my personal info and sent me a lot of junk mail.”

It’s interesting to note that people expressed a wider variety of concerns about privacy from companies than privacy from other people. Developers who might focus on and design for privacy between individuals only are missing the bigger privacy concerns that consumers have with data collection practices.

If all aspects of privacy aren’t properly addressed in the design process, it leaves potential opportunities for privacy violations. To learn more about how other researchers consider privacy categories, you can read this paper from Kröger, Miceli, Müller (2021) and their classification of personal data misuses.

What other dimensions of privacy do you think should be designed for? And how can we encourage product developers to focus on designing for all aspects of privacy, not just the ones that are most convenient?

The source for all consumer quotes comes from: Outlaw, J., Carbonneau, S., et al. The Extended Mind. (2021). “Don’t Track My Life:” Virtual and Augmented Reality Consumer Data & Privacy Survey. Download the research here: https://www.extendedmind.io/survey

Resources

Kröger, J. L., Miceli, M., & Müller, F. (2021). How Data Can Be Used Against People: A Classification of Personal Data Misuses. Available at SSRN 3887097.

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Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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Jessica Outlaw

Jessica Outlaw

Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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