Web design influences how much we disclose online

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London | Published: October 11, 2015 6:12:40 PM

Web design, and the information shown on the screen, influences how and whether a user discloses personal data online, according to a new study.

Web design, and the information shown on the screen, influences how and whether a user discloses personal data online, according to a new study.

The study by European Commission’s Joint Research Centre used behavioural sciences to look at how individuals react to different types of privacy notices online.

Specifically, the researchers analysed users’ reactions to modified choice architecture (ie the environment in which decisions take place) of web interfaces.

Two types of privacy behaviour were measured – passive disclosure, when people unwittingly disclose personal information, and direct disclosure, when people make an active choice to disclose personal information.

After testing different designs with over 3,000 users from the UK, Italy, Germany and Poland, researchers found that web interface affects decisions on disclosing personal information.

The study also explored differences related to country of origin, gender, education level and age.

A depiction of a person’s face on the website led people to give more personal information, researchers have found.

Also, this design choice and the visualisation of the user’s IP or browsing history had an impact on people’s awareness of a privacy notice.

With regard to education, users who had attended (though not necessarily graduated from) college felt significantly less observed or monitored and more comfortable answering questions than those who never went to college.

On the other hand, people with a lower level of education were more likely to give out personal information unwittingly.

This behaviour appeared to be due to the fact that non-college attendees were simply less aware that some online behaviour revealed personal information about themselves.

Strong differences between countries were noticed, indicating a relation between cultures and information disclosure, researchers said.

Approximately 75 per cent of participants in Italy chose to answer positively to at least one stigmatised question, compared to 81 per cent in Poland, 83 per cent in Germany and 92 per cent in the UK.

Approximately 73 per cent of women answered ‘never’ to the questions asking whether they had ever engaged in socially stigmatised behaviour, compared to 27 per cent of males.

This large difference could be due to the nature of the questions (eg about alcohol consumption, which might be more acceptable for males).

It could also suggest women feel under greater social scrutiny or are simply more cautious when disclosing personal information, researchers said.

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