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Optimistic Phase

Reactions:

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Users become comfortable with technology

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Concerns assuaged by positive experience

Main research questions:

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How to cement “Architecture of privacy” (Market, Legal, Social, Technical elements)

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How to optimize application value and minimize risks going forward

Pessimistic Phase

Reactions:

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Many legitimate concerns

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Alarmist reactions

Main research questions:

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“Right” way to deploy / facilitate adoption

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Value proposition

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Rules of fair use

Figure 3. The Privacy Hump, a working hypothesis describing the acceptance of potentially intrusive technologies. Early in the life cycle of a technology, users have concerns about how the technology will be used, often couched in terms of privacy. However, if, over time, privacy violations do not occur, and a system of market, social, legal, and technical forces addresses legitimate concerns, then a community of users can overcome the hump and the technology is accepted.

The Privacy Hump

In addition to static acceptance models, HCI practitioners would benefit from reliable models to predict the evolution of privacy attitudes and behaviors over time [158]. Looking back at past technologies and understanding the drivers for acceptance or rejection can help formulate informed hypotheses going forward.

Our basic assumption is that the notion of information privacy is constantly re-formulated as new technologies become widespread and accepted in everyday practice. Some technologies, initially perceived as intrusive, are now commonplace and even seen as desirable, clearly demonstrating that peoples’ attitudes and behaviors towards a technology change over time. For example, when the telephone was first introduced, many people objected to having phones in their homes because it “permitted intrusion… by solicitors, purveyors of inferior music, eavesdropping operators, and even wire-transmitted germs” [106]. These concerns, expressed by people at the time, would be easily dismissed today.

We hypothesize that the resistance in accepting many potentially intrusive technologies follows a curve that we call “the Privacy Hump” (see Figure 3). Early on in the life cycle of a technology, there are many concerns about how these technologies will be used. Some of these are legitimate concerns, while others are based more on misunderstandings about the technology (for example, the quote above that phones could transmit germs). There are also many questions about the right way of deploying these technologies. Businesses have not worked out how to convey the right value propositions to consumers, and society has not worked out what is and is not acceptable use of these technologies. Many of these concerns are lumped together under the rubric of “privacy”, or “invasiveness,” forming a “privacy hump” that represents a barrier to the acceptance of a potentially intrusive technology.

Over time, however, the concerns may fade, especially if the value proposition of the technology is strong enough. The worst fears do not materialize, society adapts to the technology, and laws are passed to punish violators. An example of the former is that most people understand it is appropriate to take a photo at a wedding but not at a funeral. An example of the latter are “do not call” lists that protect individuals from telemarketers and laws punishing camera voyeurs [5].

In other words, if a large enough community of users overcomes the “privacy hump”, it is not because their privacy concerns disappear, but because the entire system—the market, social norms, laws, and technology [199]—adapt to make these concerns understandable and manageable. It should be noted, that the privacy hump cannot always be overcome. For example, nurses have rejected the use of locator badges in more than one instance [22, 59].

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