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Microsoft surveys tech elites on online privacy

Every year for Data Privacy Day, Microsoft releases the results from a new privacy survey. This year, Microsoft skipped over average John and Jane Does and instead surveyed "technology elites." The results were a bummer.

The theme for International Data Privacy Day 2014 was "respecting privacy, safeguarding data, enabling trust." In 2013, we learned beyond a shadow of doubt that the government has no respect for our privacy; that certainly did nothing to enable trust. From the insecure state of healthcare.gov to the too many breached companies to mention, our data has not been safely guarded.

Every year for Data Privacy Day, Microsoft releases the results from a new survey. This year for the privacy survey, Microsoft skipped over average John and Jane Does and instead surveyed "technology elites," ages 18 - over 65, in the U.S., UK, Germany, France and Belgium.

Q: "When prompted to accept the terms of a privacy statement before using a new technology product or service, which of the following best describes how you proceed?"

According to Microsoft's Privacy Survey, "Less than a quarter of technology elites read privacy statements in full." Of course people don't. Whether people are in the U.S. or Europe, saying I read and accept the Terms of Service and privacy policies are the biggest collective lies on the Internet. The Terms of Service; Didn't Read (ToS;DR) project tried to tackle the problem with crowdsourcing "to rate and label website terms and privacy policies from very good to very bad."

NPR previously reported:

Online privacy policies are so cumbersome and onerous that it would take the average person about 250 working hours every year - about 30 full working days - to actually read the privacy policies of the websites they visit in a year, according to an analysis by researchers Aleecia M. McDonald and Lorrie Faith Cranor.

Tech elites on both side of the pond are looking for tech companies to provide "automatic privacy protections," according to Microsoft's survey. And the biggest reason that people, especially Americans, are willing to trade their privacy is for the convenience of shopping online.  

Microsoft's privacy survey found that 23% of American tech elites believe the government should be responsible for protecting their online privacy. Not less than 1%, are you flipping kidding me? Have they been sleeping through the summer of Snowden surveillance revelation bombshells, or do those elites work for government?

Brendon Lynch, Microsoft's Chief Privacy Officer, wrote:

Much of the responsibility of privacy protection currently rests with individuals when they are expected to read the lengthy and complex privacy statements and disclosures of service providers. Given the sheer number of statements they increasingly encounter, using these tools as the basis for privacy decisions places unrealistic expectations on individuals. Indeed, our research suggests that people don't typically read these statements, perhaps due to the burdens of time and complexity. Over time, our reliance on this model will erode privacy and trust unless we evolve to an alternate model.

While not eliminating the concept of notice and consent, an alternative approach could be to hold organizations more accountable for data practices and management, and focus more on appropriate uses of data while still ensuring that consumers have the opportunity to manage their personal information in many contexts.

Microsoft's surveyed tech elites say they want more details on how personal data is collected and used:

If those details about personal data were hidden away in TOS legal mumbo-jumbo or privacy policies most folks don't read, then that wouldn't be very helpful. If those details were published in a transparency report, then it might depend upon how much is disclosed and how much you value transparency.

Regarding transparency reports, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (whom six Congressman want fired for lying, under oath, to Congress about NSA data collection programs) released a joint statement. It said tech companies will be allowed to release "more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, and the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests including the underlying legal authorities."

Satisfied, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn dropped their petitions pushing for permission to publish more detailed transparency reports. Apparently, The Washington Post was not satisfied, claiming that those tech companies' "transparency reports are mostly a PR stunt."

If you are interested, you can download Microsoft's privacy survey here. The infographic can be found in full here.

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