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Know Yourself: Sharing Information Online

Nitin Sumangali |

Recent MasterCard global research regarding people’s behavior online reveals a common principle: while people trade information about themselves in order to get some benefit, that trade-off must be made with a clear understanding of the benefit and the use of the information they trade.

Reinforcing these findings is a New York Times story  (subscription may be required) last weekend about Carnegie Mellon Professor Alessandro Acquisti and a number of experiments he created to learn about how people value their privacy. As a behavioral economist, Prof. Acquisiti is constructing scenarios that induce his research subjects to think about how they share their information online and what that means for them.

Acquisti began observing a group of 5,000 people, mostly university undergraduates, and noticed that they were both sharing more and more of themselves and answering questions about their behavior and preferences, but were simultaneously narrowing the scope of who got to see that information. They understand that their data has value and further that they could take steps to control its access.

This finding matches some results from a recent study MasterCard conducted. When asked if their personal data has value to advertisers, 66 percent of U.S. respondents agreed. In the same study, 70 percent are aware that social media sites use the information they share to tailor ads to them.

Professor Acquisti notes in the article that his experiments are not meant to tell people what to do, but instead to encourage them to think about the trade-off the benefits of the Internet entails. Sometimes, when entering payment details to buy a laptop online, for example, these questions are at the front of our minds and we’ve clearly weighed the risks. Other times, when sharing a link to a news story with our social networks, the question is less obvious and the impact is not immediately evident.

By constantly asking how much we value our privacy and what is done with the data we share, the Internet’s value proposition becomes stronger.

Topics: Big Data, Payments Strategy

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