Privacy and the Public – Perception and Acceptance of Various Applications of ICT

Misse Wester and Per Sandin


This contribution presents the results from a survey study conducted in Sweden. In total, 2010 answers were collected from a representative sample of the Swedish population. The increased usage of novel technical solutions that may require individuals to provide sensitive information about themselves, such as an increase of so called e-services, can be promoted for two reasons. First, an increase of security is often used as one reason for collecting and storing e.g. biometric data such as fingerprints or retina scans. Second, the benefit for the individual in terms of convenience and availability is yet another reason for an increased reliance on technical solutions. But the trade-off between security for all and privacy for the individual is a difficult one to make. Also, the perceived demand of increased e-services is questionable, both because this is not fully investigate and also because there are few options if an individual chooses not to use e-services.

The study focuses of how the concept of privacy is perceived by the public and how this perception relates to different applications of information and communication technology. One of the aims of this study has been to identify to what extent different groups of the public view the balance between the individual’s right to privacy with the increased security some ICT solutions are claimed to provide society at large. We also measured what knowledge individual hold about these technologies and to what extent they have chosen to use or not to use novel ICTs.

The data was analyzed with respect to various background factors such as age, place of residence, having children, gender and education. Most individuals use items that could be used for storing information about them or tracking their whereabouts to a great extent. Most use the Internet on a daily basis, their mobile phones or use public transportation. A majority of respondents have taken steps to protect data about themselves. These actions included refusing to give personal data about oneself to a company or asking to be removed from a database that a third party could be privy to. It can be noted that there actions were directed mostly towards commercial companies and not governmental agencies. This raises the question of reasonable options for the user. Giving up the option of receiving tailor-made offers from my local grocery story by not registering my purchases in the stores bonus program is quite different from not receiving my unemployment reimbursement for refusing to give personal data over the Internet. Governmental agencies are perceived as more trustworthy than commercial companies, but in order to retain this high level of confidence it is argued that reasonable options must be available.

The results further indicate that men and women differ in how they perceive potentially invasive information and communication technologies. Men are more skeptical towards the implementation of certain technologies and feel that these technologies can be easily misused by third parties. Men also believe that the laws that regulate the uses of private information are less efficient than women judge these laws to be. However, men utilize e-services to a greater extent than women do. Also, younger individuals use these services to a greater extent than the older individuals. This latter groups is also more concerned that their information is available only to authorized personnel at both governmental agencies as well as commercial actors.

These results indicate that there are different groups in society with different preferences and concerns when it comes to protecting their personal and potentially privacy sensitive data. This calls for a more nuanced discussion where the need and desire for new technologies is given priority rather than allowing the technical development influence this process. If the end-users are not involved in this process, and if the technical possibilities are not presented as just that – possibilities – chances are that the increased reliance on ICT solutions will increase concerns of privacy. Also, the development of reasonable options for those individuals that do not want to utilize novel technical solutions must be taken seriously or the term “informed consent” will become meaningless.