How Much Is Privacy Worth?

Andrew Sullivan —  Mar 3 2014 @ 10:32am

Julia Angwin, author of Dragnet Nationspeculates about the future of privacy-protection tools:

I think that it’s hard to know whether there will be a robust market. What’s happening now that’s really weird is that the more companies that collect data about us, the more they all have the same data and the uniqueness of their data actually falls. So in some ways, the companies that are collecting data are bringing down the price of our data because there’s no scarcity. There are hundreds, literally hundreds of companies have information about me. And many of them have the exact same information about me. So they can’t sell it for very much.

There are people who argue that privacy would help us make our data more scarce. And then actually those companies would benefit, they would actually be able to sell it for more because they would be the only one that had it.

There’s also the fact that they’re going to be people who will pay for privacy, and it might just become a luxury good. Where some people will buy their way out of it. And that might be an unfair situation societally, in the sense that some people will have this protection that some people won’t. And I’m not sure where the market will go, but I suspect that we will see a rise in maybe both these markets.

In an excerpt from her book, Angwin details how a pro-privacy search engine helped her say goodbye to Google:

I found a tiny search engine called DuckDuckGo that has a zero-data-retention policy.

It doesn’t store any of the information that is automatically transmitted by my computer — the IP address and other digital footprints. As a result, DuckDuckGo has no way to link my search queries to me. “When you access DuckDuckGo (or any website), your web browser automatically sends information about your computer,” the company’s privacy policy states. “Because this information could be used to link you to your searches, we do not log (store) it at all. This is a very unusual practice, but we feel it is an important step to protect your privacy.”

As soon as I switched, I realized how dependent on Google I had become. Without Google’s suggested searches and perfect memory of what I usually search for, each search required more work from me. … In fact, I had gotten so accustomed to letting Google do my work that I found it a bit jarring to have to finish typing an entire word without Google’s finishing it for me. Without Google’s suggestions, however, I found that I was less distracted to search for things I didn’t need. No more typing in the letter a and having Google suggest “amazon,” and then suddenly remembering that I needed to order something from With DuckDuckGo, I usually found what I wanted, although sometimes it was strange to be confronted with just three results. I was so conditioned to seeing millions of results for everything on Google.

Update from a reader:

Excited to see DuckDuckGo mentioned. I’m nearing my first year after switching from Google/Bing to DuckDuckGo and I’m not looking back. A few months into using DDG, I found out about DuckDuckGo Goodies, and they’re absolutely awesome. Maybe you already mentioned how DDG popularity exploded after NSA/PRISM leaks. There’s also a recent profile of them on FastCompany.