The Corporate Cultivation of Digital Resignation

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Nora Draper and Joseph Turow


New Media & Society, pp. 1-16, March, 2019


Many computer users are resigned to loss of privacy. Firms may cultivate this resignation with confusing and distracting privacy interfaces, to forestall collective action to protect privacy.

Policy Relevance

Scholars should study how to disrupt corporate tactics that cultivate resignation.

Main Points

  • The "privacy paradox" is the idea that people say they care about information privacy, but often behave in ways that contradict that.
  • A survey of computer users shows that 58 percent desired control over what marketers learned about them online, but accepted that they had little control over this; users are resigned to loss of privacy.
  • Feelings of resignation are a rational emotional response in the face of undesirable situations that individuals cannot escape, similar to learned helplessness.
  • Firms that traffic in consumer surveillance cultivate resignation to forestall a strong collective public response to surveillance capitalism.
  • Firms use four rhetorical tactics to discourage users from understanding and engaging with privacy controls.
    • Placation falsely appeases privacy concerns.
    • Diversion shifts focus away from problematic practices.
    • Jargon generates confusion.
    • Misleading labels occlude industrial practices.
  • "Transparency tools" such as privacy dashboards give little insight into firms' practices; these appear to shift control to users without really altering reality.
  • Firms can use these tactics to argue to policymakers that they are providing explanation of their data practices, but individuals continue to find it futile to engage with the platform.
  • Individual actions such as deleting Facebook will not effectively address social problems.
  • Merely providing information about privacy dangers may deepen feelings of resignation; scholars should study how best to disrupt corporate tactics.

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