The Facebook data debacle may not change internet behavior

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DATA DRAMA In the aftermath of another high-profile data breach, there’s reason to doubt whether many people will want — or be able to — keep much more of their digital lives private.

If you’re not paying, you’re the product, so the saying goes. For years, Facebook users have known that they — or, more specifically, their data — make up the bulk of the goods being sold by the social media company to advertisers and other third parties.

Then came news that London-based data firm Cambridge Analytica accessed an estimated 87 million Facebook profiles without permission and used that data for political campaigning. The public was incensed.

The hashtag #DeleteFacebook started trending on Twitter, and media outlets have published a slew of how-tos on blocking online snoops. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was brought before Congress April 10 and 11 to answer for the company’s handling of user data.

But it’s unclear if the uproar will actually change how people behave online or help them wrest more control over their data. Experts on human behavior and online privacy say people’s expectations of privacy may simply become a thing of the past. Here are a few key questions about online activity in the wake of this data breach:

Will people be less willing to share information online?

That’s highly unlikely, says behavioral economist George Loewenstein. There had already been a string of high-profile data breaches, including Equifax and Anthem Health. But most people haven’t suffered severe, personal consequences from those intrusions. Cumulatively, he says, these episodes “may have created a kind of boy-who-cried-wolf effect.”

One study from 2012 suggests how easily people can become desensitized to privacy invasion; when 10 homes were fitted with cameras, microphones and other surveillance equipment, residents grew to accept the lack of privacy after just a few months.

“I don’t think we’re suddenly going to reach a level of data breaches where people are going to hit their limit,” says Loewenstein, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Quite the opposite.”

People may become more cautious, however, about which information they do share, suggests management information systems researcher Laura Brandimarte. She points to a 2017 study of search engine queries before and after…

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