Utility companies are replacing traditional electric, gas and water meters with smart meters. Privacy concerns arise because the smart meters collect detailed energy usage, knowing for instance when you cook or you watch TV, whether you are home or not, when you turn on a light, or if you have guests. Clearly, the value that individuals assign to the protection of their personal data is of great importance to businesses, the legal community, and policy makers.
However, the popularity of blogs, online social networks, and other information-sharing social media suggest that sometimes people take the initiative to share sensitive information (e.g. kids’ photos, home and work locations, shopping bills) with strangers. Individuals’ preferences for privacy may therfore not be as internally consistent as most people assume.
A field study challenges the stability of the value that individuals assign to the protection of their personal information. The authors find that individuals assigned markedly different values to the privacy of their data depending on:
- whether they were asked to disclose otherwise private information or how much they would pay to protect otherwise public information
- the order in which they considered different offers for their data.
It seems that people caring or not about their privacy depends critically on context.