Privacy Paradox: What You Can Do About Your Data Right Now : All Tech Considered How can you stay digitally connected without feeling intruded upon? WNYC's five-day plan hopes to take the mystery out of digital privacy and improve lives both online and off.
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Privacy Paradox: What You Can Do About Your Data Right Now

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Privacy Paradox: What You Can Do About Your Data Right Now

Privacy Paradox: What You Can Do About Your Data Right Now

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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When you download a new app or sign up for a new service online, it asks you to share your personal details. You may not want to, but how often do you actually say no? We'll be talking about that today on All Tech Considered.


CORNISH: Here's a stat courtesy of Pew Research. Nearly three quarters of Americans say it's very important that they control who can get information about them. And that's really hard to do, as some listeners told WNYC's podcast "Note To Self."

JEFF DAVIS: After creating an email account for our first son, someone recently tried to hack into that account, which feels like a threat.

LAURA MCBRIDE: I am a stay-at-home mom getting ready to re-enter the workforce, and now I need to go online and make sure I'm searchable. And I'm feeling really conflicted.

MELISSA THORNTON: I use Facebook Messenger. I have a level of unease about how much data I am giving Facebook for free.

CORNISH: That was Melissa Thornton and, before that, Laura McBride and Jeff Davis. And with us now is Manoush Zomorodi. She's host of "Note To Self," and she's going to talk to us now about online privacy and hopefully a project to help us regain control of it. Hey there, Manoush.


CORNISH: So explain why we do this, the psychology here. Like, we keep sharing the information even as we are clearly reluctant to.

ZOMORODI: Yes, well, researchers of course have a name for this conundrum. They call it the privacy paradox. And at this point, we are playing fast and loose with our data mostly because we have no choice. Most of us need to be on Facebook or LinkedIn or do our banking online.

CORNISH: Do you feel like there's a cultural shift, right? Like, we know that this information - bank details, Social Security numbers - we want to keep it safe. And it sounds like listeners now really have a concern about it.

ZOMORODI: Yeah, we did a survey, actually, with 2,000 of our listeners, and we heard lots of stories about personal privacy loss. One man told us his very religious wife filed for divorce after Facebook changed its settings and revealed that he belonged to an atheist Bible study group.

Another listener told me how upsetting it was to see fertility ads for months after researching her surgery to get her ovaries removed. Listeners reported seeing their own emails in WikiLeaks dumps. The list goes on. And even more broadly, there was just a general sense that people don't feel good about having their every click and like tracked and quantified.

CORNISH: Do you get the sense that they're actually doing anything about it? I mean we obviously hear more about strong passwords, things like two-step verification. I don't know if we can do much obviously if an app like Facebook decides to change its settings.

ZOMORODI: Well, that's right. I mean we should take those precautions. But, no, as of now, there really is nothing you can do if you put your information in these companies' hands. Some people are taking more extreme measures. About half of our listeners said they had deleted an app because of a privacy concern.

Half of them also said they'd used false names to set up an account. But these companies don't need our names to track us, Audie. They can use something called digital fingerprinting, which lets them figure out who you are just by the very technology you use.

CORNISH: But it sounds like as digital consumers right now, we've been down with this tradeoff. We want these services, so we're willing to give up the data.

ZOMORODI: Right because if we made all our data private as of now, then we would have to sacrifice the benefits, too.

CORNISH: So you've got some tools to help us (laughter) kind of figure out...


CORNISH: ...This landscape.

ZOMORODI: Yeah. So, Audie, what we're doing is, we have a new interactive project, and we're calling it the Privacy Paradox. This is a five-day plan that is going to help people learn where their information goes and weigh the tradeoffs.

So starting next Monday, February 6, every day for a week, you will get a newsletter and a mini podcast that explains a part of digital privacy. And then we're going to ask people to try, if they want to, a tool or a behavior change to see if it makes a difference, if they feel like they can get back some sense of control over their personal information.

CORNISH: And I know we're going to check in with you, Manoush, next month to see what people actually did, whether they say it helped them regain control of their digital information. Manoush Zomorodi, thanks so much.

ZOMORODI: Audie, thank you.

CORNISH: Manoush Zomorodi is host of the podcast "Note To Self" from member station WNYC. And you can find details and links for the Privacy Paradox at the All Tech Considered blog on


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