A new paper by economists Susan Athey, Christian Catalini, and Catherine Tucker, titled “The Digital Privacy Paradox”, suggests there are a number of perceived costs that prevent consumers from choosing services with privacy features over other options.
During their 2014 Bitcoin experiment at MIT, in which 4,494 undergraduate students were given $100 worth of Bitcoin each, the research team collected insightful data regarding both privacy attitudes and privacy choices in an attempt to identify user preferences. Analyzing these results, their new paper reports fascinating findings, especially given the background of their sample group: more technologically savvy and more likely to be early adopters than the average consumer.
The preferences and concerns with respect to privacy and trust held by blockchain pioneers are well known. As such, Athey, Catalini, and Tucker were specific when surveying participants regarding their trust in institutions, inquiring about three different categories of entities. Of the entire MIT undergraduate student body, 53% indicated they trust the government, 43% indicated they trust retailers, and 26% indicated they trust startups, suggesting an uphill battle for those blockchain startups hoping to unseat incumbent institutions such as banks.
m0t0k1ch1.icon 被験者の、機関に対する信頼についての調査結果が以下（分母は MIT の全学部生）
The results of this study provided an additional surprise. The study design gave participants several wallet options for storing their new coin ranging from a self-managed wallet to a web wallet service, and also a hybrid option. Despite the fact that this choice reduced privacy, potentially giving both firms and government access to their data, an overwhelming 71% of participants chose the bank-like web wallet option as their mode of digital storage.
m0t0k1ch1.icon プライバシーを損なうにも関わらず、71% の被験者が銀行のような web ウォレットを選択した
“Whenever privacy requires additional effort or comes at the cost of a less smooth user experience, consumers are quick to abandon technology that would offer them greater protection.”
m0t0k1ch1.icon追加の労力が必要 or UX を犠牲にしている場合、消費者は強力なプライバシー保護を提供する技術をすぐに放棄する
Additionally, for this part of the study, the researchers chose to randomize the order in which wallet options were listed for participants and chose to randomize the level of information available regarding each option in order to better understand how much effort or thought went into the choice. They found that participants had a propensity to choose the option that was listed first, indicating that they treat exerting effort to learn about options as a costs, and that the effect persisted even when participants were provided with basic privacy information about each option.
These findings together demonstrate that even among a well-educated and technologically skilled population, a majority of consumers have an overriding preference for convenience and are unlikely to go out of their way to seek additional information in choosing an option that provides a benefit like privacy.
If today’s developers aim to achieve mass adoption, they must begin to think about the economic value to the consumer in order to produce a product that will be accepted and implemented into the everyday lives of the general public.
This study also shows that a technology providing benefits from a privacy or censorship standpoint — two of the most often cited benefits of blockchain — will have difficulty gaining mass adoption if there is any effort costs to implementation and/or use.
Even those consumers with the ability to read code will be unlikely to directly check whether an application or smart contract is trustworthy, and therefore may choose a services that require less work to trust. As per the findings in this study, consumers will forgo privacy and control of their data or assets if relinquishing those things means they can spend less effort on maintenance.