Yes, Mr. Zuckerberg, we do care about privacy

Four out of five Americans have information on their PCs they want to keep private, says Harris Interactive. Time to start listening to them.

Privacy is dead, get over it. Sharing is the new social norm. If you're doing something you don't want others to know about, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.

We hear these things a lot from what social media researcher Danah Boyd calls Privileged Straight White Male Technology Executives (PSWMTE).  It's their justification for taking your data and having their way with it. Now that you no longer care about protecting your personal information, it's OK if we butter it all over the InterWebs for a profit, right?

Dear Messrs Scott McNealy, Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, and all the other PSWMTEs: Americans do care about their personal privacy, online and off. And you'd know this, if you just asked them the right questions.

[ See also: Have we entered a computer police state yet? ]

Today, security software vendor PC Tools and Harris Interactive released the results of their Keep Internet Security Simple survey. The highlights:

  • Four out of five Americans want to keep files on their computers private from others -- whether it's their coworkers (48 percent), boss (42 percent), friends (40 percent), children (29 percent), parents (26 percent), or spouse (17 percent).
  • Nearly half (45 percent) say they'd be embarrassed if those other folks saw some of the stuff they have on their PC, smartphone, wonder tablet, etc.

In other words, a whole mess of people are doing what Eric Schmidt says they probably shouldn't -- as is their right. (Still, it may be time to wipe those naughty Popeye and Olive Oyl pix from your iPhone, dude.)

The poll also reveals many of us are sitting ducks for scammers. One out of three of the 1000+ adults polled said they'd be willing to visit a "suspicious" Web site recommended by a "friend" despite the risk of a malware infection. Of course, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are wide open venues for exactly this kind of scam. The largest percentage, one out of five adults, would trust a friend's link on a social network.

Other interesting tidbits from the survey:

  • Three out of four people say they'd rather do their laundry, visit the dentist, wait in line at the DMV, endure a colonscopy, or change a dirty diaper than clean their Windows Registry.
  • Only 8 percent of people believe it's OK to keep their devices turned on during a religous ceremony, but 22 percent think it's perfectly fine to stay "plugged in" during sex. Insert your own joke here.

PC Tools' larger point: It's too friggin hard to keep your PC, smartphone, etc protected from threats, both from scammers and from people you know. Just like it's still too friggin hard to keep your Facebook profile private, despite the improved controls FB grudgingly rolled out last May.

People really do want to stay private and secure. They just need easier ways to make that happen.

I'm going to repeat what Ms. Boyd said in a speech at South by Southwest last March, just because it's so good:

"No matter how many times a privileged straight white male technology executive pronounces the death of privacy, Privacy Is Not Dead. People of all ages care deeply about privacy. And they care just as much about privacy online as they do offline. But what privacy means may not be what you think.... Fundamentally, privacy is about having control over how information flows. ...When they feel as though control has been taken away from them or when they lack the control they need to do the right thing, they scream privacy foul."

So, PSWMTEs (and especially you two, Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt),  are you listening? I hope so. Because ignoring how people really feel about their privacy -- or paying it lip service, as those two have largely done -- is a recipe for disaster.

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan would rather have his colon scoped than clean his Windows Registry, too. Catch his brand of juvenile snark at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.

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