More Online Contexts Evoke Privacy Concerns

The growing sector of information and communications technology has led to the increased use of user’s personal data for commercial purposes. This trend has led consumers and privacy advocates to reduce the amount of personal information shared online and to demand increased privacy protections, respectively.

In this paper, Goldfarb and Tucker analyze how user’s privacy concerns have changed over time and across age groups. Using an online survey, the researchers collected three million observations during 2001-2008 that asked respondents to reveal their income. The data collected in this survey revealed two key patterns about how privacy concerns have evolved: 

  1. There has been an increased refusal to reveal personal information online over time
  2. Older people are less likely to reveal personal information online compared to younger people.

The researchers share several possible explanations for these two patterns, including “an increase in experience with information technology” and “a change in composition of the online population”, but find that “a change in underlying preferences for privacy explains a substantial part of the trend”. Further, the researchers document an increase in the amount of online contexts where users take more privacy precautions. 

This particular finding is demonstrated in the fact that, although younger populations have over time shared less and less personal information online, the gap between old and young people in their online sharing habits continues to widen and can be explained as the difference in perception for “personal” and “nonpersonal” contexts of the two age groups. Here, we could reflect and question whether the previously-stated and potential explanation for the increase in privacy concerns, e.g. “an increase in experience with information technology”, has any influence on the younger generation’s, who grew up with such technology, perception of a “personal” vs. “nonpersonal” online context.

The research presented by Goldfarb and Tucker suggests that users are increasingly paying more attention to a “particular type of privacy” and contributes to the broader policy discussions for privacy protection regulations.

Works Cited

Goldfarb, Avi, and Catherine Tucker. 2012. “Shifts in Privacy Concerns.” American Economic Review, 102 (3): 349-53.DOI: 10.1257/aer.102.3.349