Private Lives: User Attitudes Towards Personal Information on the Web


Carrie Gates
Tara Whalen

Author Addresses: 

Faculty of Computer Science
Dalhousie University
6050 University Ave.
PO Box 15000
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
B3H 4R2



Research into privacy attitudes has generally concentrated on concerns over data collection and handling by businesses, government, and other formal organizations. However, there are many aspects of one's personal life that are not covered by this situation, such as casual snapshots and personal opinions. It is unclear what control people have over personal information that is released in this unregulated sphere, and what their concerns are about disclosure of private data. We conducted a set of studies investigating the types of personal information that people are comfortable having online in a public forum, which can be easily found through search engines. Additionally, we gathered information about people's experiences with how well they have controlled their own personal information as well as other people's data, and how satisfied they are with their ability to restrict what is revealed about them.

Our results show that people are most comfortable disclosing professional data (except salary), general personal data (vital statistics, leisure data, personal preferences, expressions), and photos. The items people were least comfortable with revealing online were personal contact details, affiliations, and government-released data (such as property assessments). Although we found some dominant concerns within our studies, we were unsurprised to find a great deal of variation among our respondents, and there were few pieces of data that {\em all} people would release. Some of our respondents were unsatisfied with only having social controls available to limit personal information publication, which suggests that mechanisms should be put in place to assist people in determining how much data about them is available on the web.

Tech Report Number: 
Report Date: 
June 20, 2005
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