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University of Michigan School of Information


Enabling Comparative Analysis of Privacy Expectation-Risk Misalignments in Exposure-sensitive Populations

Project goal: This project will develop and validate a new research instrument enabling quantitative and comparative assessment of exposure-sensitive populations’ privacy expectations and behaviors, in particular how those are misaligned with objective privacy risks.


Background: People’s privacy expectations and behavior are often misaligned with objective privacy risks. For certain populations (e.g., immigrants, religious minorities, older adults) resulting unanticipated information exposure can lead to harassment, exploitation, or physical harm. While privacy expectations of some exposure-sensitive populations have been investigated, studies are often small, and findings are qualitative and difficult to generalize or compare across populations. Yet, comparative assessments are essential to understand which privacy expectation-risk misalignments are population-specific, general, or individual; and to tailor privacy-enhancing mitigations accordingly to best meet the privacy needs of exposure-sensitive populations.


Proposed work: A new survey research instrument will be developed and validated that will enable (1) quantitative assessment of populations’ privacy expectations and practices; (2) analysis of misalignments between a population’s privacy expectations/behavior and objective privacy risks; and (3) quantitative cross-population comparison and extrapolation of which expectations, practices, and misalignments are population-specific, general, or individual. The survey instrument will elicit general privacy attitudes and scenario-specific privacy expectations and practices. Scenarios will cover technology interactions with a range of privacy dimensions (e.g., secondary data use, data visibility, data sharing, data persistence, surveillance) to form construct scales (e.g., privacy awareness, attitudes-behavior consistency, expectation accuracy). Survey instrument development will be informed by qualitative research and scenario-specific privacy risk assessment (year 1) and subsequent quantitative validation of the developed instrument (year 2). Validation will include exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis, as well as triangulation with participants’ behavioral indicators (e.g., privacy settings, posting behavior) to assess predictive power and construct validity. To ensure cross-population applicability and extrapolation, the research will be conducted with three exposure-sensitive populations in the United States (immigrants, religious minorities, older adults). The base period will produce a validated survey instrument for studying privacy expectation-risk misalignments in exposure-sensitive populations. The optional period (year 3) will utilize the developed instrument in a large-scale cross-population study with representative samples of these three exposure-sensitive populations and the general population to produce new knowledge on which privacy expectations, practices, and misalignments are population-specific, general, or individual.


Novelty and impact: This project will transform privacy research with exposure-sensitive populations by enabling the quantitative, generalizable, and comparative assessment of populations’ privacy expectations, privacy practices, and the analysis of misalignments between those expectations and behavior with objective privacy risks. This will enable cross-population comparison and extrapolation of which expectations, practices, and expectation-risk misalignments are population-specific, general, or individual. These novel insights will provide data-driven guidance for whether and how privacy-enhancing mitigations have to be tailored to the needs of specific exposure-sensitive populations.

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The amount of the award is $1,000,000 for the project period. The grant is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.