A Privacy Experiment

First, create a questionnaire that asks increasingly private questions. Surely some social psychologist somewhere has developed an instrument or rubric that measures privacy or the perception of privacy. Make two versions of this questionnaire, one for individuals and another for organizations or businesses.

Second, sample two groups of people. One group is given/asked questions about their personal private life. Ask people questions until they feel uncomfortable or refuse to answer further questions. Then follow up to find out reasons why they felt uncomfortable. In the second group do the same thing but with questions about an organization or company that subject works for.

Hypothesis, people will be generally more protective or wary of violating the privacy of the organization/group they work with than they would be for their own, personal privacy.

Possible explanation:

  1. People are reluctant to violate the privacy of a group or company they belong to because they have less personal agency over the group as a whole then they do over themselves or their close family.
  2. There is an economic reason as well: disclosing information about the company one works for could result in losing one’s job, whereas disclosing information about oneself through search engine histories, social networking sites, etc. has an ambiguous economic outcome. This is supported by prospect theory and the general aversion to probable losses than gains.
  3. Finally there is a social aversion to sharing private information about another person without their permission. People are willing to share private information about themselves because they perceive that information as being within their sphere of control. Information about others is not in that sphere of personal control. This might be bolstered or denied by research on gossip. When are people willing to versus reluctant to gossip about another person? How far will gossip travel outside of the core social group?
Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.