How Much Privacy Do You Want?
Nearly everyone agrees that they want to protect their privacy – but what exactly does that mean?
We all face different risks, have different priorities, use different tools, have different levels of technical expertise and patience for new habits. So there isn’t a single ‘level of privacy’ that we all need, and there certainly isn’t a single ‘to-do’ list that we’re all going to follow.
Introducing Privacy Zones
In our work building a platform to help people have a clear and simple way to take control of their personal / data privacy, we thought a lot about this range of needs across which people are spread. And as we built the Priiv app and the privacy scoring capability it contains, we realized that there despite their seemingly endless variations, there are five zones into which people fall in terms of their privacy needs and desires.
Each represents a combination of risk and concern that corresponds to a level of effort, list of required steps, and set of necessary tools.
- No Privacy
- Basic Privacy
- Secure Privacy
- Pro Privacy
- Extreme Privacy
Each of these zones is described in detail below. Thinking about where you fall today, and where you want or need to be, is a great first step to preparing to actually being taking control and improving your privacy. In fact, without knowing where you are and where you want to go, it can be quite hard to get there.
This zone is inhabited by people who use the default settings in all apps, choose apps and services without considering privacy implications, and make behavioral choices without a concern for privacy. It’s people who accept that they get very little privacy by default, and in fact cooperating in sharing data nearly every minute of their lives. Living in this zone is accepting the fact that the commercial, social, and broader societal default level of personal data privacy and protection is essentially ‘none’.
A lot of people are stuck in this zone today. Many because they simply do not know what to do, or where to start. But very few people are happy to comfortable being here.
This zone is for people who care about their own privacy, but aren’t overly concerned about it; they just want to take the basic smart steps that an everyday person should. They want keep their data secure, and not be unnecessarily taken advantage of – personally, financially, or politically. These are primarily people that are not too technical, don’t play with software settings for fun, and also don’t face any large specific threats in their lives that would cause them to need more than a reasonable basic level of self protection.
We think of a full set of basic privacy protection as the minimum recommended level for anyone with a digital life – which is to say just about everyone. Living below this level means being used and living with unnecessary risks and costs. Some will not stop here, they’ll learn enough about privacy and the methods of managing it that they’ll want to increase their levels further over time.
This zone is for people that want or need a little more than basic, but aren’t ready or don’t need to become too hardcore. The motivation to move up to the Secure level may be philosophical; a lack of comfort with the level of surveillance capitalism that is inherent in online life, or it may be personal; worry of harassment or physical risk or just being creeped out at learning how broadly your location is shared on a near constant basis. For others, need to upgrade is driven by enhanced risks based on their job, their economic status, or lifestyle or political beliefs that might cause higher than average risks if they don’t elevate their protection.
If Basic Privacy is our idea of the minimum acceptable level, then Secure Privacy is the sweet spot in which most people should aspire. Becoming truly secure means plugging all the obvious leaks where you data is needlessly flowing to individuals, companies, or governments. It’s a balanced level where the reward is usually much larger than the level of effort, financial cost, or behavior change it requires. And for people who have no reason to expect that they’re going to be personally targeted in some kind of attack, it offers a full range of reasonable and sufficient protection.
Going Pro always means upping the game; in privacy it requires accepting that to get meaningful additional privacy the cost will be markedly higher, largely in terms of extra steps, more disciplined behaviors, and more serious protective tools. The motivation for going pro might be philosophical, but more often it’s borne of necessity; if you’re likely to be personally targeted – because you’re rich, famous, hold valuable information, or for any other reason want or need very high and very strong security and privacy protection.
The step up to Pro is a steep increase in costs, both financial and in terms of technical and procedural complexity. Achieving this level of protection means giving up convenience for the sake of security, and adopting behaviors that represent more dramatic changes from the laissez fair way most people lead their digital lives. The payoff is a lot of serious risks and potential costs are avoided, reduced or made far more difficult.
It’s not news to anyone that the most serious forms of digital protection require extremes in process, in tools, and in behaviors. But when the stakes are high it’s required, or at least necessary to try. This zone is for those in of most extreme circumstances or concerns, sometimes concerned about direct targeting by state-sponsored actors.
Life In The Zones
The four active zones – Basic, Secure, Pro, and Extreme – each require certain kinds of actions, adoption of specific categories of tools, and the adoption of certain general and specific behaviors.
In the Priiv app we’ve begin the work of cataloging and describing all of these, starting with the Basic and Secure zones. These each contain dozens of recommendations, tips, and tools. Our focus is on completing these as broadly as possible, covering as many devices, apps, services, and lifestyle aspects as possible. We’ve done a little work on the Pro Zone, and will continue to consider rolling that out in the future. At this point we don’t think those who need Extreme Zone protection probably need help from us.
What Will We Learn?
The idea of these privacy zones, let alone the implementation of them, has been in the work for months. They’re meant to help our users to understand where they stand, to set goals, to motivate them to achievement and mark their progress and success. But as we learn through interactions and experience, we’re open to changing anything if we find better terms or better ways.
We’d love to hear your thoughts; write up at firstname.lastname@example.org