Close this menu

Eliminating the Fear Factor from Online Privacy Debates

FearFactor At the Safe Internet Alliance event earlier this week there was a surprising amount of agreement on one aspect of sharing information on the Internet: eliminating the fear factor.


“Facts, not fear” was a meme throughout the event. Rep. Boucher discussed how comprehensive privacy legislation encourages Internet use because consumers don’t need to fear how their information is protected. And Josh Gottheimer of the FCC cited a study that shows that one of the main reasons why people don’t have broadband is due to, as he called it, the “fear factor.”


For increased use and adoption of the Internet and online services, cutting through the fear is key. That’s why I stressed why one of the main goals of a group that’s discussing privacy-related public policies should be to distinguish between legitimate concerns versus overreactions.


For online safety, there was a period just a year or two ago where we saw a lot of rhetoric, but not a lot of facts, about the real risks and likely threats kids face when online. Today the discussion is less fear-based, and as a result is much more productive for making the Internet safer. The NTIA OSTWG report stressed this fact-based approach.


Today privacy is where the online safety debate was a few years ago. There’s a similar danger of overreaction where rhetoric may crowd-out productive solutions. But there’s also a risk of being too glib on each side: pro-regulatory privacy advocates may not value the need for legitimate revenue models while businesses may sometimes dismiss legitimate privacy concerns.


Ultimately it may come down to a question of who decides. Whether it’s default settings or what is personal information, is it government, companies, or consumers that decide? I’ll tip my hand here: I think the key is for consumers to on the one hand understand the decisions they make, and on the other hand be allowed to make decisions.


Fear not, NetChoice looks forward to working with the Safe Internet Alliance and policymakers on privacy issues.


-Braden Cox