All websites have privacy warnings, which you are supposed to read and understand before entering the website. The truth is that websites collect information about their visitors all the time, and most of us reveal personal data knowingly or inadvertently. What is the consequence of consumer self disclosure? Self disclosure by visitors to a website may lead to more positive reactions from them to subsequent advertising for the particular products/services offered on that site.
A study led by JRC scientists has found that web design and the information provided on the screen has an impact on how and whether users reveal personal information online. This means that certain effective designs as those a good web design company can provide you, will help to elicit trust from your visitors, understand them better and offer them tailor-made solutions.
The JRC study â€śNudges to Privacy Behaviour: Exploring an Alternative Approach to Privacy Noticesâ€ť utilized behavioural sciences to study how individuals react to different types of privacy notices. The studyâ€™s specific focus was on the usersâ€™ reactions to customized choice architecture of web pages.
Two types of behaviour were measured:
- Passive disclosure: People unwittingly disclose personal information
- Direct disclosure: People make a conscious choice to reveal personal details
Different designs were tested with more than 3000 users from the UK, Italy, Germany and Poland. The results showed that web interfaces do influence the decision to disclose personal data. There were changes depending on the country of origin, gender, education level and age.
Users who went to college found it easy to answer questions compared to those who never went to college. Moreover, this category of users felt much less monitored or observed. This finding is indeed a challenge to the premise that those who are better educated are more conscious of data tracking practices. Users with a lower level of education proved to be more likely to disclose personal details inadvertently. This can be attributed to the fact that they are not very well aware that certain online behaviour patterns could result in them disclosing personal information.
The researchers observed strong differences between countries that signified a connection between cultures and self disclosure. In passive disclosure, Italian participants revealed the most personal data; however, in direct disclosure they revealed less than the other countries surveyed. Around 75% of Italian participants answered positively to at least one stigmatized question. In Poland this was 81%, in Germany 83% and 92% in the UK.
About socially stigmatised behaviour, 73% of women said â€śneverâ€ť compared to 27% males. This shows that women are more cautious when it comes to disclosing personal information, maybe because they feel they are under greater social scrutiny or perhaps the nature of the questions may be more acceptable for men rather than women.
This study is significant in that though it has targeted only a sample of users in four European countries in an experimental setting, the results can provide valuable information to inform European policy decisions. Leading web design service providers may have large amounts of data regarding how minute changes to their servicesâ€™ privacy controls affect the privacy behaviour of users. The study authors recommend that both web providers and policy-makers can work together to identify ideal web interface designs that will encourage conscientious disclosure of privacy information.
A certain level of online disclosure is necessary for many services. Among the groups that can benefit from studies such as the above are healthcare professionals, higher education professionals and survey bodies. For a user to reveal personal details he/she should develop trust towards a website and how a user evaluates the trustworthiness of the website will surely have an impact on the success of that service.