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The Worth: Access to Government Information about Someone Else

Posted on October 19th, 2016   

“Would you spy on Theresa May? Or would you rather know if she’s spying on you?”


Government Info Part 2

A relatively high willingness to pay to access information held about you by the British Government in our previous Dectech Buzz made us wonder – what is the perceived value of accessing the information held about someone else? Would we take this opportunity to quell our curiosity about celebrities or pursue our distrust in politicians? Or is the ability to view and control our own private information of more value?

The Worth asks respondents whether they would pay a stated amount for a given outcome.  By varying these amounts across participants in a randomised controlled trial we can more accurately infer the public’s willingness to pay £20 for different outcomes, as shown in the above graphic (for further details on our methodology please see our Technical Notes).

Overall, only 29% would pay £20 to access the information that the Government holds about anyone else, compared to the 38% who would pay that amount to access their own information. This relatively low willingness to pay for someone else’s information appears to be a combination of low interest in this type information and a moral issue with spying in this manner.  In stark contrast, you can only imagine how much a newspaper might offer for Donald Trump’s tax returns.

This issue of political trust was highlighted by 22% of respondents who chose to view politicians’ information – 5% choosing current Prime Minister Theresa May followed by David Cameron, Tony Blair and the racist satsuma himself.  Celebrities were chosen by 15% of respondents, including Hollywood stars but also those recently associated with financial scandals like Philip Green and Mike Ashley. Sometimes, however, the curiosity lies closer to home, with 14% choosing to view information about a personal acquaintance including friends, partners, family members and work colleagues.

The relatively low interest in the information of others may be somewhat due to a lack of imagination about what we could find or what could be done with this knowledge. Once specific information of interest is suggested our willingness to pay may increase. Within 9 days a fundraising campaign raised $40k from US citizens to help with the $5mm legal penalty fee that could occur if a person leaks another scandalous Donald Trump tape, with one wealthy Clinton supporter offering to cover the full amount. As of yet, however, nobody has proven willing to pay the jail time associated with releasing his tax records, which appears to be a step too far.

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