The debate on privacy in the information age is going on and on… personally I think that is important to bring this two quotations to increase our awareness that commercial interests are interested in changing social norms, to create a “business” environment that allows to them to increase their revenues based on our privacy.
“Privacy is dead, deal with it,” Sun MicroSystems CEO Scott McNealy is widely reported to have declared some time ago.
In a recent interview with CNBC Google CEO Eric Schmidt said: “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
A conceptual debate following the expansion of computer mediated (CMC) communication is on the question of whether CMC has generative effects on our behavior. In a new study, Guy Becker and I, linked these two questions: disclosure of personal information and CMC effects in a recent study and investigated whether norms of self-disclosure of online and offline identity are linked to online disclosure of personal and intimate information.
Various perspectives suggest that CMC exercises generative or dishinbitive effect that encourage disclosure of personal information. A number of CMC characteristics have been suggested as conducive to this norm generation. The medium’s relative anonymity has been associated with flexible norms of online disclosure t. The perceived anonymity offered by CMC lowers the danger of future isolation and thus enables a higher level of self disclosure. Joinson (2003) studied patterns of youths’ romantic confessions (a behavior with many intense affective future outcomes) and found a higher willingness to confess romantic intentions by email than face-to-face (FTF).
Anonymity seems to support a disinhibition effect, i.e., the loss of constraints that a person experiences when behavior is no longer controlled by concerns about self-presentation or judgments by others (Joinson, 2003). In CMC research, disinhibition is often considered a precursor of online self-disclosure.
Thus, we expected that
H1: Norms of online information disclosure will be positively associated with actual online information disclosure.
H2: According to the CMC generative perspective, norms of disclosure of face-to-face information will be associated with norms of online information disclosure.
The generative approach implicitly implies that intensity of exposure to the Internet is associated with the dissociation between norms of online and offline disclosure of information. Individuals need to become immersed in the online communication task, in order to perceived the other according to internal consciousness factors including biased impressions of the other that generate a perception of trust that leads to different norms of disclosure of online information. Thus, we expected that
H3: online information disclosure is associated with intensity of Internet usage, so the higher the use of the Internet, the higher the disclosure of information online.
Given that self-disclosure to peers increases in adolescence (Buhrmester & Prager, 1995) and that blogs provide adolescents with a means for peer communication, we expected.
H4: Disclosure of personal information to be associated with age, so the younger the user, the less he/she will disclose online information.
* Having a public online personal profile is positively correlated with been alright to provide email address, IM screen name, and link to a personal blog.
*Having a personal photograph on the web in a space accessible to all is positively and statistically significantly correlated with alright to provide e-mail address, IM screen name, and link to a personal blog.
*The same results were found for posting a clip on the web in a space accessible to all.
Accordingly, these findings support the hypothesis that norms of online behavior are correlated with actual behavior online.
H2 predicted that norms of face-to-face information disclosure will not be associated with online information disclosure norms.
* The correlations of norms supporting disclosure of personal and online identity information were low or non-significant. For example, the correlation between alright to provide last name and email address was .10, and that between alright to provide school name and email address was .09. At the same time, the correlation between alright to provide last name and IM screen name, and that between alright to provide last name and link to the personal blog, were non-significant.
No indication appears here as to any association between norms of disclosure of offline personal identity and of online identity. The findings award some merit to CMC theories of generative effects of the media and the use of specific norms of online behavior. Further support for this argument requires finding no correlation between norms of disclosure of offline information and online behavior, and a correlation between norms of disclosure of online identity information and online behavior.
The following correlations do support this possibility.
1. there are only three small, negative and significant correlations between norms of offline identity disclosure and online behavior. Alright to disclose last name is negatively correlated with having an online profile (-.07), and alright to provide home phone number is also negatively correlated to having a profile online (-.07). While statistically significant, these correlations are very low, and the others are non-significant indicating hardly any association between norms of disclosure of personal information and norms of disclosure of online identity information.
2. positive and statistically significant correlations exist between norms of disclosure of online identity and online behavior.
According to H3 online information disclosure is associated with intensity of Internet usage, so the higher the use of the Internet, the higher will be the disclosure of information online. The results support the hypothesis and positive and statistically significant correlations were found between frequency of Internet usage and the three measures of norms of disclosure of online identity information. Positive statistically significant correlations were found between frequency of internet usage and online behavior.
H4 predicted that age will be positively associated with disclosure of online information and H5 predicted that girls will disclose more online information than boys.
The analysis showed a link between gender and frequency of social norms supporting private information disclosure. According to the correlation matrix, norms of personal information disclosure are age-dependent as well. Positive correlations were found between age and alright to disclose last name and school’s name. Also, a positive association was found between age and alright to disclose online information such as email account, IM screen name and personal blog.. Yet, no gender differences were found in supporting norms of online identity disclosure and girls were more likely to disclose online information. Thus, H5 was supported.
The results provide an indication that disclosure of online identity information is associated with a media generative effect.
Norms of offline-identity information disclosure were not related to norms of online-identity disclosure, indicating that they are not associated with online behavior.
Our findings indicate that youth hold two different sets of norms that are not related: one that indicates when, and under what circumstances, personal identification information may be disclosed to others, and the other regarding what details of online identity to disclose. Furthermore, the most important and significant result of this study is that norms of online-identity disclosure are associated with online behavior but not with norms of disclosure of personal information (like last name, address, phone number and school name).
The study hypotheses were tested by a secondary analysis of the 2006 Pew and American life survey of parents and teens. This data set is particularly appropriate for this study as it was drawn from a representative sample of the US youth population and is probably the only known data set that included in the survey measures of privacy norms and online behavior.
The Parents & Teens 2006 Survey was sponsored by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a non-partisan and non profit organization that collects data and provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life.
Guy Becker and I thank to the Pew Internet and American Life Project for providing access to the data.
The paper will be published in Human Communication Research. An earlier version is available at http://soc.haifa.ac.il/~gustavo/norms%20of%20disclosure%20mesch&becker.pdf