What Leads Users to Give Their Data Away?

May 5, 2018 · 4 min read

How many times have you clicked “I agree” on a website or app’s terms and conditions without reading them?

Maybe you have a twinge of uncertainty, knowing that you should be informed about what the platform would do with your activity. Yet you are also aware that even if you spent the time to read through all the terms, you are completely disempowered from changing or negotiating what the site will do with the personal data you share.

This is a near-universal experience. We see that on the whole, the vast majority of people online don’t trust the platforms they use to protect their data. This makes sense: many online platforms don’t have a tradition product per se (think Instagram), and can only generate revenue through placing ads into the consumer experience. Add (pardon the pun) into this equation breaches and insecure handling of data, as was the case in Facebook’s recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. Trust in online platforms is at an all-time low, as consumers see the casual attitude taken by these companies toward data breaches or responsible profitization. Yet even with the distrust and poor expectation of privacy and movements like #DeleteFacebook, there is still high use of social media networks. A Pew study compilation on the “privacy paradox,” found that over 90% of Americans surveyed thought that people had lost control of their data online. Much of this belief is due to not believing that web companies and social networks have our best interests and security in mind.

Another survey last year found that just 9% of social media users were “very confident” that social media companies would protect their data. About half of users were not at all or not too confident their data were in safe hands.

Moreover, people struggle to understand the nature and scope of the data collected about them. Just 9% believe they have “a lot of control” over the information that is collected about them, even as the vast majority (74%) say it is very important to be in control of who can get information about them.

Six-in-ten Americans (61%) have said they would like to do more to protect their privacy.

The desire for security and disaffection with the current privacy policies of social networks is there, but we as consumers continue to disclose our data in ways that we know are irresponsible and insecure. What makes us so willing to concede our privacy online? There are a number of reasons: convenience, lack of a viable alternative, and manipulative design that drew attention away from the data disclosures that we make to go online. This Psychology Today article takes us through five of the phenomena that academics have identified as leading to casually secure behavior online:

1. Users are made to believe they are protected

If there’s a privacy policy stated (like one you have to hit “I agree” to), people actually disclose 20% more of their information. No matter the terms, the aura of responsibility makes people trust a site or platform more. Or this might be because people assume that a privacy policy states that data can’t be sold or shared without explicit permission.

2. The design of a site seems trustworthy

A professional-appearing site might lead people to feel that the organizers of it are more professional and trustworthy themselves. This does seem counterintuitive, as we know that even the most professional and popular sites have been very casual with user data.

3. Due diligence takes time

Most of use don’t have the time or the education to be able to comprehend a company’s privacy policy, put together by a whole legal team.

4. Users see their friends doing it

Peer pressure is powerful. If all of our friends and family are using a site, we might become lax about the security standards we set for our own behavior. When we see others sharing information, we become more likely to share information about ourselves. And we might think, “If there’s so much data out there, why would I be targeted?”

5. The defaults of a website are intentionally confusing

One might assume that the defaults of user privacy settings are the most secure, but we shouldn’t depend on this. Often, defaults are “opt-out” not “opt-in” and the settings reset or relocate with every app update. Slight differences in phrasing can have a huge impact in how much users disclose to a platform. This trick of sites that profit from user data was made evident during Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony, when he wouldn’t commit to making a change in Facebook’s privacy defaults.

Of course, another reason we give away our data to online giants like Facebook and Google is because they currently monopolize the market and are the gatekeepers to the online world.

We want to stay in touch with our family and friends online, or find information fast. Happily, decentralization is promising a path forward with alternatives to these centralized entities. Desearch, the first crypto-focused search engine, is here to show the potential of a decentralized, ad-free search engine to disrupt Google. Try it today at Desearch.com.

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