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ESRA 2023 Program


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Recent Developments in Privacy Research

Session Organisers Professor Peter Graeff (Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel )
Dr Zoltán Kmetty (Centre for Social Sciences - Hungarian Academy of Sciences)
Professor Guido Mehlkop (University of Erfurt)
Dr Robert Neumann (Technische Universität Dresden)
TimeFriday 21 July, 09:00 - 10:30
Room U6-03

The current age of digitization and the popularity of applying methods under the umbrella of Computational Social Sciences has put the sources of individual data and ethical aspects of research at center stage for quantitative researchers. This applies for using either reactive responses by means of informed consent or by non-reactive methods that are applied without active consent or knowledge. Furthermore, all areas of everyday life become intermingled with and affected by the responsive provision of personalized data, e.g. for algorithmic predictions based on digital traces, for influencing individual mobility decisions, for the provision of health information, for the usage of smart home applications, for the tracking of financial portfolio data or to follow the imperative of electronic payment solutions. All issues touch upon the preservation of individual privacy rights. Several recent surveys have shown that respondents are concerned about data and privacy breaches – although the privacy paradox underscores the inertia that characterizes privacy related behavior – while the measurement of incidences of privacy infringements are either underreported or remain unobserved. Research on privacy can take on many directions and this session aims at assembling researchers who address privacy issues across all domains: We welcome presentations 1) that address the empirical measurement of individual traits/attitudes that are related to privacy concerns, 2) that improve the measurement of privacy concerns beyond the (outdated) approaches proposed in the 1970s by Westin, 3) about investigations of the effect of privacy concerns on individual willingness to share personal data, 4) about approaches that help preserving participant anonymity in complex and granular digital datasets and 5) report quantitative evidence about incidence of privacy infringement. 6) Most importantly, we call for experimental designs– either in the field or implemented within surveys – that investigate privacy related behavior and decision making in the most general sense.

Keywords: privacy, attitudes, data sharing, measurement, experiments


Using Survey Experiments to Longitudinally Study Privacy as Contextual Integrity

Mr Frederic Gerdon (Department of Statistics, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES), University of Mannheim) - Presenting Author
Ms Leah von der Heyde (Department of Statistics, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. Joint Program in Survey Methodology, University of Maryland)
Professor Frauke Kreuter (Department of Statistics, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. Joint Program in Survey Methodology, University of Maryland)

Understanding privacy as “contextual integrity” (CI), as Helen Nissenbaum suggested in her seminal monograph in 2010, means to investigate the appropriateness of data flows within social contexts. According to CI, we need to define data flows with respect to several crucial situational parameters: data type, data sender, data subject, data recipient, and transmission principles (the latter defining the conditions that need to be met for the data transmission to occur). Survey experiments are well-suited to investigate the perceived appropriateness of such data flows as they allow us to randomly vary these parameters. In this talk, we first summarize CI as a useful approach to defining privacy and how to apply it in survey experiments. Then, we present results from published as well as ongoing survey experimental research that we conduct(ed) that draws on CI to explore attitudes across several social contexts. Particularly, we show whether and how privacy attitudes can change with shifts in societal environments such as due to the COVID-19 pandemic or the energy crisis that started in 2022. Our research draws on longitudinal data that we collected in yearly repeated online survey experiments from 2019 to 2022 in Germany (in July 2019, March/April 2020, December 2021, and December 2022). The data show whether and how attitudes towards individual data sharing for (public) health, infrastructure improvement, and energy management changed from before to during times of crisis. These findings highlight the benefits of studying privacy context-specifically and to be aware of the volatility of societal environments in which single privacy measurements are placed.

Dimensions of Vertical and Horizontal Information Privacy Concerns on the Internet: A Qualitative Analysis of Users’ Perceptions

Mr Jošt Bartol (Centre for Social Informatics, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana) - Presenting Author
Professor Vasja Vehovar (Centre for Social Informatics, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana)
Professor Andraž Petrovčič (Centre for Social Informatics, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana)

Information privacy concerns (IPCs) are an important concept in online privacy research. To date, various survey measures have been proposed to assess this concept among internet users. Recently, a distinction between vertical (institutional) and horizontal (social) IPCs has been proposed. Although there are several survey scales for measuring IPCs at both levels, few studies have compared the differences and similarities in their dimensionality. Therefore, the goal of this study was to explore the key dimensions of vertical and horizontal IPCs and assess their overlap. Focus groups were conducted to gain an in-depth understanding of the relationship between the two levels of IPCs grounded in users’ perceptions. This was deemed important because previous studies developing conceptual and operational definitions of IPCs have rarely provided a comprehensive account of internet users’ perceptions of their online privacy. Six focus groups were carried out in Slovenia in September and October 2022 with internet users aged 18+. Participants were divided into three age groups (18–35, 36–55, 56+) to ensure within-group homogeneity. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed with coding reliability thematic analysis. Results show that four dimensions are central to both vertical and horizontal IPCs: Information Gathering, Unauthorized Sharing, Unsolicited Communication, and Vulnerability. The identified dimensions can be conceptualized within the unified theory of privacy, the Restricted Access/Limited Control theory, which defines privacy in terms of individual’s protection from information access, intrusion, and interference by others. Our findings also suggest that existing conceptual and operational definitions of IPCs should be broadened to include concerns that the availability of personal information on the internet makes individuals vulnerable to violations such as manipulation and discrimination. Future studies can build on these empirically grounded and theoretically situated findings to develop survey measures that comprehensively capture IPCs at both levels.

Privacy concerns – a measurement proposal and validation study using data from the U.S., India and Germany

Professor Guido Mehlkop (University of Erfurt)
Dr Robert Neumann (Technische Universität Dresden) - Presenting Author
Mr Hagen von Hermanni (State Statistical Office of the Free State of Saxony)

In the current age of information, our daily actions have undergone a substantial change with regards to privacy. Activities that were once performed in private now regularly leave traces of data whenever and wherever we are. Whether searching for a job, traveling and commuting, dating, connecting and communicating with friends and relatives, streaming videos or during physical activities: Across all activities, preferences can be recorded and predicted, defaults are documented, geolocations are tracked and individuals are profiled. Despite the possible advantages for individuals and companies in being monitored or monitoring constantly, substantial concerns about data security and privacy arise. Current research investigates the level of privacy concerns, the consistency of privacy attitudes and how both are linked to actual behavior. Yet investigating these matters (e.g. the privacy paradox) requires a valid measurement of privacy concerns which usually varies with the topic at hand. Although privacy scales developed by Westin have often been criticized, we consider them a starting point to our goal of establishing a generalized scale to measure privacy concerns. We first assess the measurement properties of our new scale based on data collecting in a web survey of University employees and students. Second we aim at confirming the measurement model and validating our approach based on data from a 3-country privacy survey (3CPS), a web-survey conducted in the summer of 2022 in the U.S., India and Germany. This survey allows the validation of the scale with respect to both item statements as well as to answers from vignette experiments regarding privacy behavior.