When participants of a recent study were asked to share sensitive information on two different online surveys -- one designed to look unprofessional and the other backed by a major university -- the participants were more likely to share private information on the unprofessional-looking site. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon released yesterday some of their findings , which will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The study found that "many consumers need help recognizing when their privacy is compromised," according to the release.
"How can we make sense of the contradictory attitudes that individuals display toward privacy—from the seemingly reckless willingness of some to post personal and even incriminating information on social network sites, to the concern people express over the range of information being collected about them and the way it's being used?" wrote authors Alessandro Acquisti, Leslie K. John, and George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University.
The study that compared surveys on a professional versus unprofessional site raises some serious concerns about consumer awareness. The headline for the unprofessional-looking site read "How BAD Are U???" with red lettering and even a cartoon devil. The counterpart to that survey stated that it was administered by the Carnegie Mellon University Executive Council Survey on Ethical Behaviors and, instead of a cartoon logo, it displayed the university crest.
The experiment asked the participants if they had partaken in different behaviors. As it turns out, people who took the "How BAD Are U???" survey were more honest and forthcoming in their responses.
"People seem naturally comfortable disclosing personal information on unprofessional websites—which are arguably more likely to misuse it," the authors wrote. "The present research raises issues about people's ability to navigate these complexities in a self-interested fashion."
The Carnegie Mellon study is titled "Strangers on a Plane: Context-dependent Willingness to Divulge Sensitive Information," and it will be printed in the February 2011 edition of the Journal of Consumer Research.
Photo by Pascale PirateChickan on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.