the cups blog


Indirect Content Privacy Surveys: Measuring Privacy Without Asking About It (paper 15)

Alex Braunstein, Google
Laura Granka, Google
Jessica Staddon, Google

This paper presents an interesting way of measuring people’s privacy concerns indirectly. Why cannot we just ask people about privacy concerns directly? The authors present results of 3 surveys that demonstrate even subtle changes of wording of the questions (e.g., including words such as sensitive and worry) can cause large divergence in responses.

So, is there way to get at people’s privacy concerns without asking about privacy directly. The authors proposed a quite interesting approach. They focused on the question of how private people would think their information is (email, document, etc). They came up with three attributes that indirectly measure the sensitivity of these different types of personal information:

  • important to you
  • important to others
  • infrequently shared

They designed questions to measure each of these attributes and computed a privacy score for each data type by averaging the answers to these questions that measure the three attributes. They then compared the results from this indirect privacy instrument with the direct instruments.

It’s important to note that they didn’t compare the actual privacy scores but rather the relative ranking of these data types (e.g., email is more sensitive than document). Their results showed that the indirect instrument did preserve the same ranking that the direct instrument yield. This suggests that this indirect privacy survey approach may be feasible to assess people’s privacy concerns. They also commented that this indirect approach could be applied to other privacy-related contexts.

Read the paper at: