While many of us claim to be concerned about online privacy, we seem unconcerned with giving our most personal information on Facebook.
It may seem like a harmless attempt – adding a check-in the moment you enter a restaurant, bragging about having Charter Spectrum Cable, gloating over your achievements, and so on. But if you look at this with an aerial view, you will see that you are leaving digital footprints, which is highly alarming. TV shows like You, Mr. Robot, and Clickbait tell how vulnerable we are when it comes to manipulation, identity scams, and digital profiling.
Why the Constant Oversharing?
Leslie K. John who is an assistant professor at n the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School conducted research about information disclosure in the age of social media. Her goal was to figure out when we’re most likely to share personal information and when we’re more likely to keep our lives to ourselves.
The findings of the study suggested that people are both irrational and irresponsible with their online privacy. She also found that people are more likely to give in information in the context in which it is dangerous to share.
John and her colleagues from Carnegie Mellon set out to investigate a widely held yet inconsistent attitude of people toward Internet privacy. On the one hand, statistics show that Americans are concerned about organizations having access to their personal data. In a Pew Research Center poll conducted in February 2012, 73 percent of 2,253 adult respondents said they would not feel comfortable with a search engine keeping track of their search history and using their data to tailor future searches. And 68 percent said they were wary of targeted advertising because they didn’t want their activities tracked. Millions of people, on the other hand, habitually share the most intimate details of their lives. Ironic, right!
People Need Privacy Reminders
Their findings back up the theory that people don’t think about privacy unless it’s brought up to them. When you are browsing a professional-looking website, it sorts of tricks you into thinking about the concept of privacy. In other words, privacy isn’t always at the forefront of people’s minds unless they’re forced to think about it.
People are also more willing to volunteering to give in their information online if a personal question appears in an indirect manner. In a separate experiment, John and her colleagues collaborated with John Tierney, a science columnist for the New York Times. Tierney published a survey called “Test Your Ethics” on his blog. Unaware that they were taking part in a study, 890 of his readers completed the survey. All participants were given a list of 16 arguably immoral activities after clicking a link. They rated the activity on a scale of “not at all unethical” to “very unethical” for each one and answered questions about whether they had ever done it themselves.
Each participant was asked different questions. However, “Have you done this?” was a direct question in some situations. In other cases, the question was more ambiguous: participants could answer “If you have ever done this, how unethical do you think it was?” or “If you have never done this, how unethical how unethical do you think it was?” or “How immoral do you think this behavior would be if you choose to do it or if you’ve never done it before. Participants were considerably more likely to admit to the behavior when the question was posed indirectly.
So Why Aren’t We Careful With Online Privacy?
The main takeaway from this study was that people don’t really understand how to value their own data. “People are unsure when to value their information or how to care about it because of this uncertainty regarding the value of privacy. As a result, when people are uncertain, their judgment is compromised.
Marketing firms that gather customer data via online quizzes and games might find this study useful. While these companies aim to protect their customers’ privacy for legal and ethical reasons, the act of protecting their privacy appears to prevent information from being shared. So, what’s the answer? “Perhaps a happy medium for marketers is to respect people’s privacy while without telling them about it. John suggests that this could be a dangerous path to take. It may lead to the temptation of simply not caring about people’s privacy. But ethical marketers will be careful.
While this study does not address the physiological reasons that encourage Facebook users to share their information in the first place, it does, however, explain how vulnerable online users can be when their judgments are cloudy.