Is online trust and trust in social institutions associated with online disclosure of identifiable personal information online?

Is online trust and trust in social institutions associated with online disclosure of identifiable personal information  online?

By Gustavo S. Mesch

In recent years there is an increase in public concern regarding privacy and privacy related issues . The Internet has changed the way in which user’s information is gathered, stored and exchanged. The growth in Internet deployment and use, and the creation of cost-effective, large-volume information-storage devices have made storing, merging, analyzing and using digital  information a convenient option for governmental and commercial organizations alike . Furthermore, some Internet users are disclosing and making available personal and identifiable information making it available for search, analysis, distribution and use. The distribution and potential abuse of this information can create serious repercussions for many Internet users, which may not be immediately noticeable and whose source may be hard to locate.

Disclosing identifiable information is linked to the concept of trust. Trust refers to a “general expectancy held by an individual that the word, promise, oral or written statement of another individual or group can be relied upon . In other words is a belief that in general individuals and groups can be trusted . Trust ameliorates the perceived risks of disclosing identifiable information ).

Online trust (e.g. trust in web sites, online news, social networking sites providers) has been extensively studied . From this studies we learned that the formation of online trust is a difficult process but when it is created it serves to mitigate the perceptions of risk, uncertainty and vulnerability that are associated with the disclosure of personal and identifiable information. Yet, one important limitation of these studies is that have not compared online and face to face(ftf) trust. In other words, we do not know if trust in individuals and social institutions are associated with online trust and if there is a differential effect of trust in individuals, social institutions and online trust on the disclosure of identifiable information. The purpose of this study was to fill this gap in the literature and to investigate factors associated with the disclosure of identifiable information. In doing this, the association of various forms of trust and perception of risks on the disclosure of identifiable information was investigated.

Main findings:

* Participants: A sample of Internet users (n=1692)

* Sample description

On average the respondents were 51.49 years old  and 58 percent were women and 42 percent men. As to education, 37.4 percent had a partial or completed high school education, 27 percent had completed a technical degree, 24 percent had completed college and 12 percent graduate school.

It was found that 27.7 percent had posted comments and information online using their real names, 31.4 percent had posted online using a screename that others can identify and 11.3 percent had posted comments online anonymously.

Regarding trust, 39 percent of the sample expressed a positive response on the item that measured generalized trust. The average trust in social institutions was higher (M=4.66, SD=1.60) than trust online (M=3.47, SD=1.57) that were both measured in a scale of 1 to 10.

*Attitudes to online privacy, it was found that 24.6 percent of the sample express concern over the amount of information that is available on them online and 53 percent agree with the statement that they are concerned that people think is normal to search for information about others online.

* Is trust offline associated with trust online?

The correlation of general trust and online trust is positive and statistically significant (r=.18 p<.01) and there is a medium size and statistically significant correlation between online trust and trust in social institutions (r=.42, p<.01). At the same time, the measure of general trust in people was associated with trust in institutions (r=.22 p<.01).

* Which trust is associated with disclosure of identifiable information online?

Trust in individuals is not associated with posting identifiable information online or with posting using a screename or anonymously. In addition, trust in social institutions was also found not statistically significant as a predictor of the likelihood to posting information with identifiable name, using a screname or anonymously.

Online trust has a positive effect on the likelihood of posting information online using an identifiable name.

Preliminary conclusions:

Trust online and trust offline are not completely separate entities. Online trust is affected by our trust in individuals and social institutions.

Yet, trust online has also other sources beyond offline trust that need to be identified.

Trust online, and not trust offline is a predictor of our online behavior. Similar to the results of the previous study on the effect of online and offline norms on online behavior, it appears that in the online environment there are emergent norms and trust that can only be partially accounted by offline socialization.

More will come when I finish writing the paper.

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