There are many myths about Japanand Japanese contemporary culturebut one certainty is that “standingout” is still frowned upon. So perhapsit is not surprising that when you askpeople about the nature of privacyand their concerns about it given thattoday’s prevalence of social media itseems inevitable that Japanese peopledo indeed seem more conservative andmore concerned than those in othernations.
There Is No Global Common SenseAbout Privacy
To understand those differences, werecently undertook a global studyacross 17 nations looking at the Truthabout Privacy. The study involvedin-depth discussions with people of allgroups from 15 to 60 and in six nationsincluding Japan, a detailed internetsurvey of 1,000 respondents. Theresults clearly indicate that privacyis not the same anymore, anywhere.We are living in a world with newprivacy norms. Driven by factors likethe all pervasive nature of technology,the increased openness of celebrityculture, and the subsequent “end ofembarrassment” all revolving aroundthe nature of social networking as aconstant in normal life. It is affectingthe way we deal with our communities,our friends and our work.
Globally we found that people whodo not participate in social media nowfeel a need to defend this decisionbecause it is now seen as “unusual” notto do so. That was certainly the casein Japan where the great majority ofpeople have been using semi-smartphones with SNS and blogger softwarefor a decade. A few years ago Japanesebecame the most common blogginglanguage in the world, according toDigerati one third of all blogs werewritten in Japanese, slightly higherthan English. Why? Because unlikemobile phones elsewhere the majorityof Japanese people had phones thatallowed them to blog on the run. Hencetheir blog entries were and are muchshorter and much more about briefcomments on what they were doing“right now” rather than blogs in theWest, which tended to be longer andmore about points of view. In the lastthree years smartphones and the riseof Twitter have seen the rest of theworld fall into a format of “ personallysharing” that is similar to that initiallylaunched in Japan. And of course itis part of the reason Japanese peoplehave so quickly migrated to Twitter.
Meanwhile the majority peoplearound the world have found newways to indulge their nosiness:l 4 in 10 people have looked at onlinephotos of people they hardly know.(slightly less in Japan )l A third have googled people theyhardly know to find out personaldetails. (slightly less in Japan )l A quarter have read a friend/partner’s text messages. (slightlymore in Japan )l 1 in 10 are reading someone’s diaryand that is just the people who admitto it. (slightly less in Japan ).
What are some of the significantdifferences between Japan and the restof the world? It was very clear fromthe Truth about Privacy research thatwhile concerns are universal we cansee a distinct pattern where “southern”or more developing countries like Indiaand Chile are more open to sharing,and “northern” developed marketslike the USA and UK are much lessopen. And interestingly Japan is theleast open. Chart 1 clearly shows thatwhile over 50% of people around theworld generally agree that “it’s betterto be open about your problems,” lessthan 20% in Japan agree. Again whenwe asked to what extent people agreesharing their thoughts and opinions,while the global average answerwas near 60%, only 30% of Japaneserespondents agreed.Japanese Don’t Like to ExposeThemselves OnlineOne significant reason for this reticencemight be social pressure to “not standout” but clearly connected to thatwas a belief that people in Japan getembarrassed easily. As Chart 2 pointsout, over 50% of Japanese respondentsagreed on that notion, a full 10 pointsmore than the global average. Thetruth is that Japanese people just donot seem as motivated to share onlineas others. Globally around a quarterof people agree that if they share morepersonal information online, they willget ahead in their career. In countrieslike India and Chile that figure rose toover 40%. However in Japan only 10%of people believed that to be true.
As we saw above, Japanese people doseem just less nosey. When we asked,“if you had access to all informationabout anyone and anything,” we foundthat while globally 30% of people saidnothing (as in they would not use thataccess to seek out private details ofother people) nearly 40% of japanesemade that their first choice of action.However when it came to all “mygovernments secret files” while thiswas the second most popular answer everywhere at 23%, nearly 30% ofJapanese agreed that would be theirfirst use of open access to all data.Of course the fact our survey wascompleted 4 months after the disastersof 3.11 and the subsequent publicunhappiness with the government’sreactions to disaster relief and thenuclear reactor situation no doubtmade such interest topical.
Equally interesting was that onmany measures of inquisitivenessJapanese people just report a lowerinterest compared to other countries.Would they like the names of everyonetheir partner has had relationshipswith? Would they like to know thesalaries of everyone in their company? Would they like access to all the emailsand text messages of their favoritecelebrity? In each case their interestwas two thirds the global level.
Perhaps three issues are driving theattitude to privacy in Japan: 1 People have become more waryof “privacy” as an issue as opposedto something that was taken forgranted since the introduction of the“Personal Information” ProtectionLaw was put into effect in 2005. Sincethen companies have been educatingworkers to maintain personalinformation to control risks, as aresult heightening the awareness, andconcern over privacy of information.Previously Japan had always beena community-centered society andinformation was naturally sharedamong people, so the concept of“privacy” as in keeping informationwas not as much of a concern. 2 Everyone wants to decide themselveswhether something is beneficialto them or not, and wants to provideinformation only if it is beneficial tothem. Therefore, they show a strongsense of disgust when something theydo not want is put into their face bya company/brand. However, if theysee a clear benefit, they can bearsuch actions. For example, people donot mind receiving mobile messagesfrom McDonald’s because they get adiscount. 3 Brands with a strong image ofstability and social contribution had astronger image of being able to protectprivacy. In other words, if a company/brand is trusted in existing marketingcontexts, people have a more positiveimage about protection towardprivacy. Perhaps not surprising thatover 70% of people said that banksand financial institutions were thebusiness category they trusted mostin terms of privacy.
It is also interesting that globallypeople believe the institutions they canleast trust at the moment are socialnetwork sites. There is a clear concernthat Facebook, Twitter, etc are notreally capable of providing real securityand that because of all the data theynow collect they need to prove theirability not to threaten members’ longterm privacy. That applied as stronglyin Japan as elsewhere. The real truthis that many people around the world,but especially in Japan told us thatthey would prefer to be able to usetheir favorite social networking sitewithout having to expose their realidentity. The propensity for Japanesepeople to like using sites such as Mixiwhere they do not have to reveal theirreal names etc. is usually, becausethey believe they can be more honestin their relative anonymity. That isafter all what privacy often meansto people. The ability to just keepthings to yourself and not be pointedat, sounds like yet another Japanese“myth” that is actually true.