The Difficulty of Educating People About Online Privacy

Written By: Jake Bauer | Posted: 2019-12-20 | Last Updated: 2019-12-20

Update: I just finished listening to the latest Jupiter Extras podcast entitled Brunch with Brent: Jason Spisak Part 2 in which they touch on this topic a bit. It’s definitely worth a listen.

I’ve recently been reflecting on the difficulty that I’ve had in conversations with people about online privacy where it is frustratingly difficult to get them to care about who has their data and how it is being misused.

I have given it some thought and come upon three major sticking points in my conversations with others about online privacy (which also apply to any kind of debate in general):

Stubbornness

When someone is really set in their ways, it is exceedingly difficult to get them to consider changing their behaviour. For some people, even mentioning that something they are doing (or not doing) is perhaps wrong or detrimental to them is equivalent to insulting their favourite childhood television programme.

There are also usually many logical fallacies and other psychological effects that people fall into which contributes to this. For example, if someone has purchased a $100 smart home lady cylinder, they may try to defend themselves against the feeling of buyer’s remorse if you are telling them that this big purchase may have been a bad choice.

Usually, if you persist enough in subtle ways, you can erode someone’s stubbornness by exposing them to things like news articles and practical examples of data breaches and privacy violations but you obviously don’t want to be a gnat in their ear constantly pestering them about this.

Ignorance

To the chagrin of myself and many of my colleagues, most of the general public are not familiar with even the most basic workings of the devices which we use every day. Most people don’t know what a hash is nor would they be familiar with the many ways that attackers can steal their personal information.

Even those who are relatively tech-savvy, as in those who are able to build their own computers and install their own operating system, are not necessarily knowledgeable about online privacy.

This makes it really difficult because the points that you are making sound really obvious to you but to others it sounds like you’re either speaking gibberish or being overly paranoid. If you have to give someone a complicated and technical crash course on the topic of which you are trying to convince them before you can even begin to convince them, you have most likely already failed to convince them.

Apathy

This is probably the worst of all three. When you are very passionate about a subject and want to educate others so that they can better protect themselves or be more aware of their data, the worst thing is that they will simply not care. In my experience, there is nothing you can do about this. The only way to get someone to care and take action is to watch them fail to the point where they recognize that they can’t not care anymore. Even that isn’t guaranteed as some people, no matter how much they get hurt by something, will just carry on.

There really isn’t all that much that we can do besides present our arguments, politely attempt to present evidence, and let the news headlines do the rest of the convincing for us. Sometimes getting the other person to explain their position in detail can be an effective tactic in making them realise that their reasoning is flawed but, even then, in the end it seems many people will always choose convenience over all else despite the overwhelming evidence that their choices could cause them significant harm.

I’d be interested to know what, if any, strategies you have for discussing online privacy with others. Let me know by sending me an email.