The Sense of Privacy
Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy, PwC William W. Cooper Professor of Risk and Regulatory Innovation
Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University
Friday, April 19, 2019
10:30 AM – noon
Speakman Hall Suite 200
Many factors affect privacy behavior in both conscious and unconscious manners. Some of those factors are sensorial cues: hearing, seeing, or smelling the presence of others. Human beings may be wired to react to those cues even when they do not carry information about actual trade-offs associated with privacy choices, and thus should not normatively influence privacy calculus. In four experiments (N=829), we examine the effect on privacy-relevant behavior (the disclosure of personal information) of sensorial cues signaling the presence of other humans, including cases when that presence does not materially affect risks or benefits associated with personal disclosures. Four types of sensorial cues (proximity, visual, auditory, and olfactory), each signaling the presence of another person around the participant’s physical space, produce a consistent and significant inhibitory effect on disclosure of personal, intimate information in an online survey. The findings suggest a visceral, and in part unconscious, influence of sensorial stimuli on privacy choices. We discuss the implications of the findings in the context of privacy (and security) decision making in a digital age, where physical cues human beings may have adapted to use for detection of threats may be absent or even manipulated by third parties.