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11 April 2019

Revealing Yourself To Online Companies: Why Would You?

People share large amounts of personal information on the internet. Companies use this information to offer personalized communications based on a person’s interests, behaviors and needs. However, giving personal information raises privacy issues. A study in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication investigates how people make decisions to share personal information with different online companies.

Take aways

  • When people have to decide to share personal information with an online company, for example providing one’s email address to a website, they make a trade-off between costs and benefits.
  • Using people’s information to personalize advertisements is not a fruitful strategy for news and commercial companies, because it decreases people’s trust in the company.
  • For health services, personalizing advertisements does less harm.

Study information

  • Who?

    1,131 participants (mean age: 56, age range: 18-90, 50% female)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    Participants read an online scenario and imagined themselves using a search engine and visiting either a health website, a news website, or a commercial website. The scenario described that participants gave personal information on the website and that when they later used the search engine to visit another website, they saw either a personalized advertisement or an advertisement that was unrelated to the earlier search. Afterwards, participants completed  a questionnaire about perceived benefits, trust in online companies, privacy risk perceptions, and their willingness to give personal information in the future.

Facts and findings

  • Participants who expected more benefits were more likely to give personal information on the website, while participants who perceived their privacy to be more at risk were less likely to give personal information.
  • Participants who trusted the online company more, were more likely to give personal information.
  • This trade-off of costs and benefits was made by all participants, no matter if they visited a health website, a news website or a commercial website.
  • Participants who were told that they would see a personalized advertisement trusted the online company slightly less, perceived less benefits from giving personal information to the website, and were slightly less likely to give personal information to the website in a future website visit. This was especially the case for commercial and news websites.
  • However, when participants imagined that they visited a health website, it did not matter if the advertisement was personalized.