Privacy Concerns and Information Disclosure: An Illusion of Control Hypothesis

Date of Original Version



Working Paper

Abstract or Description

This paper investigates one possible explanation for people’s conflicting attitudes regarding protection of private information. The proliferation of studies about crimes such as identity theft and cyber-stalking, together with the sharp increase in the number of victims, and the easiness with which data can be retrieved on the Web has raised people’s awareness and concerns about the consequences of revelation of private information, especially on the Internet. On the other hand, the increasing popularity of online social networks and blogs suggests that more and more people are willing to reveal all kinds of information about themselves to the members of these communities. In order to understand this dichotomy, we introduce and test the hypothesis that people may confuse control over publication of private information with control over accessibility and use of that information by third parties. Borrowing the terminology of psychology and behavioral decision research, we refer to this hypothesis as “illusion of control”. We designed two experiments in the form of online surveys to students at Carnegie Mellon University, in which we manipulated control over information publication. The results provide empirical evidence of illusion of control.