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How Are Online Companies Manipulating Us Into Sharing Private Information?

Revealed in a Study by Ben-Gurion University Researchers

Online companies manipulate users to reveal private information in many ways “Depends on How You Ask for Information”, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have determined.

The intriguing study’ findings convey significant implications for user privacy as well as online data capture.

“The assignment was to show that we are able to cause smartphone and PC users of online services to disclose more information simply by manipulating the way information items (name, address, email) were presented,” says Prof. Lior Fink, head of the BGU Behavioral Information Technologies (BIT) Lab and a member of the Department of Industrial Management and Engineering.

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Using digital “foot-in-the-door” techniques, websites can successfully entice users to reveal more of their private information.
1- Requesting personal information from less important to more private (ascending privacy-intrusion order),
2 – By placing each request on consecutive, separate webpages, users are more likely to reveal more private data.
3 – Websites can further manipulate their users by spreading out information requests over the course of several pages, rather than consolidating all requests on one page.

The researchers collaborated with Rewire, a Tel Aviv-based neobank (a virtual or online bank) providing international money transfer services.
They examined the activities of 2,504 people. The users were asked to provide their details: country, full name, phone number, and email address as part of the sign-up process.

“We found that the ascending privacy intrusion manipulation increased sign-up by 35% and the multiple-page manipulation increased sign-up by 55%,” Fink said.

“The general public and regulators should be made aware of these vulnerabilities since it is so easy to capture more private information, despite their privacy concerns,” says lead researcher and BGU student Naama Ilany-Tzur. “At the same time, this research has important marketing implications as legitimate companies and marketers are always seeking to maximize the amount of data they can capture on individuals and the optimal way to achieve this.”



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