What Makes Internet Users Surrender Personal Data? (Study)

What do Internet users expect in return for sharing their personal data? A new report from Pew Research Center sought to answer that question.

What do Internet users expect in return for sharing their personal data? A new report from Pew Research Center sought to answer that question.

Pew used six hypothetical scenarios to gauge respondents’ expectations, and the one that involved social media was presented as follows:

A new social media platform is being used by your former high school to help manage communications about a class reunion. You can find out the basic information about the reunion over email, but your participation on the social media site would reconnect you with old friends and allow you to communicate more easily with those who are attending. If you choose to participate, you will be creating a profile using your real name and sharing a photo of yourself. Your access to the service is free, but your activity on the site would be used by the site to deliver advertisements that it hopes will be appealing to you. Would this scenario be acceptable to you, or not?

Pew found that 51 percent of respondents would not find this trade-off acceptable, while 33 percent would agree to it and 15 percent said it depended on the circumstances.

Age was also a factor, as Pew found that about 40 percent of respondents younger than 50 said the deal would be acceptable, versus 24 percent of those 50 and older.

Comments from respondents included:

  • I would only want to see advertising in that website, not in my personal email.
  • It would depend on if I could easily delete this account if I didn’t like how many ads I received.
  • I hate receiving advertisements on the Internet from people and companies that do not interest me. It creates so much spam.
  • Although I understand this scenario is already standard practice, it uses information collected about me in a manner not for my benefit, without my consent. It would affect how I use the reunion site or whether I even join the site at all.
  • I’ll get the info at the reunion anyway. Then I can choose who I want to contact.
  • Acceptable until you use my likeness or information in an advertisement. That I would never agree to.
  • I don’t see this as a gross invasion of privacy: All the information that would be gathered about me is certainly already available online somewhere else. I just wouldn’t care enough to create another internet profile.
  • Advertised as “free,” but it isn’t. I pay, but with my attention span rather than a monetary fee. Too costly, and based on a lie.

Lee Rainie, author of the report and director of Internet, science and technology research at Pew Research Center, said in a release introducing the study:

Many policymakers and companies are anxious to know where Americans drawn the line on privacy–when they will resist privacy intrusions and when they are comfortable with sharing personal data. These findings show how people’s decisions are often context-specific and contingent. A phrase that summarizes their attitudes is, “It depends.” Most are likely to consider options on a case-by-case basis, rather than apply hard-and-fast privacy rules.

Readers: How would you have responded to the hypothetical situation presented by Pew?


Photo credit: gruntzooki via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA