Is your personal information worth anything to you?

Back in 2004, I wrote an article about how various entities make money off transactions involving the personal information of customers and citizens (which, in some cases, such as the DMV in many US states, are the same group). [That article kinda predicted how access to personal data could be acquired rather easily by someone posing as a legit customer of third-party data verification services, like TML's TravelCheck...only about 18 months before Choicepoint was dinged by federal regulators for allowing exactly that kind of illicit disclosure to happen.] I suggested that private entities wouldn't start being serious about data security until customers started realizing the inherent value of their own personal information.

I was totally wrong about that. Private entities now engage in data security practices (or at least pretend to, by expending a modicum of effort and money), but not because of how their customers feel about personal privacy: instead, those private entities are much more concerned about regulatory compliance.

A lot has happened in the intervening 13 years since that first article, including many breaches of massive databases, revealing volumes of personal customer data. Customers have also become a lot more computer-friendly, and are using personal devices to conduct online shopping and ecommerce transactions at a rate that is vast compared to even a decade ago. They also claim to be extremely concerned about "privacy" (whatever that means, when individuals are asked in surveys on the topic), and have some awareness of threats like identity theft and hacking of personal accounts/files/assets and scams.

The weird part is, they don't behave as if they really understand the value of their own data...or as if they're truly frightened about any impact its loss would cause. The market share of companies like Target, Home Depot, TJ Maxx has not declined significantly, even though those entities have demonstrated that they aren't the best stewards of customer data. And experiments have demonstrated that individuals are likely to part with their own passwords in exchange for incentives as basic as candy bars.

I don't think this a shortcoming of the private sector, specifically; we know governments aren't any better at protecting information that's been entrusted to them. (And I, for one, have chosen to behave accordingly; even though I might shop at Home Depot and Target, I am not going to take any job with the US federal government that would require a security clearance, because the USG has proven that it is very good at losing my personal information.)

But customer/citizens/individuals just don't seem to care about if their data is protected, or how it is protected....even though those same individuals will say they care quite a bit.

So I have to ask...if people don't really care about the loss of their personal data (which we can tell from what they do, versus what they say), and the impact they experience from any actual loss is really pretty nominal (often more an inconvenience, and results in lost time, not lost assets), why do we have such a strict regulatory mandate in many jurisdictions? Why are there so many laws and standards in place to protect something that doesn't seem to really have much value?

It might be heresy to ask, but...are we at the point where "MORE SECURITY!!" is not actually the best approach, in terms of the interests of individuals? Does the cost of adding more and more protection to personal data raise the price of goods and services ultimately provided to individuals...and does that price increase go beyond what the average cost of a loss would be to each person?