New Mediocracy and the Privacy-Value Slide

An important sub-theme of my New Mediocracy argument is that as robotic technologies enable corporations to track and interpret our activities with ever-greater accuracy, so we will give them more freedom to do so, releasing the rights to our privacy incrementally in return for small benefits that companies will be happy to provide in the barter: convenience, discounts, rebates and the like.  An informative article by Somini Segupta, Letting Down Our Guard, profiles my colleague at Carnegie Mellon, Alessandro Acquisiti, who has done multi-year studies demonstrates just how carefully presented value propositions can convince nearly anyone to let them privacy erode for some perceived benefit. One particularly telling example shows how a $12 discount card convinces the shopper to divulge all their shopping details, and the option of trading in the $12 discount for a mere $10 discount that guarantees privacy only wins over 10% of respondents. Ninety percent of us will barter away our personal information for a mere 2% of relative value. New Mediocracy is about optimization in the face of massive information. Corporations will experiment and finesse just such value proposition manipulations to maximize the degree to which most people will trade away their information without realizing quite how valuable that personal privacy can be. The knock-on effect of all this? Far better data analytics at these same companies will enable highly customized, laser-focused pitches that convert even more eyeballs into bonafide consumers, both in the Internet world and in the land of brick and mortar stores.

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