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it - Information Technology

Methods and Applications of Informatics and Information Technology

Editor-in-Chief: Conrad, Stefan / Molitor, Paul

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Volume 58, Issue 5


Sensitivity of personal data items in different online contexts

Martin Ortlieb / Ryan Garner
Published Online: 2016-07-08 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/itit-2016-0016


We present the results of a survey study (n = 1,200) investigating online users' privacy sensitivity towards exposing specific data items to service providers of the three most prominent online services in the UK: online retail, social networking and information search. The study, representative of the online population of the UK, presents proof for the context-dependence of privacy sensitivity and provides concrete quantitative results for specific data items (like full name or mobile phone number). One of the key results is that data that is considered essential in order for a service to work is seldomly rated as sensitive. We could also show that passively collected data is in general more sensitive than concrete data provided by the users. However, specific conditions like control and transparency can have positive/negative effects on the sensitivity of data in a specific context.

Keywords: Online privacy; personal data (items); sensitivity; context

ACM CCS: Security and privacy →Human and societal aspects of security and privacy →Usability in security and privacy

About the article

Martin Ortlieb

Dr. Martin Ortlieb is a qualitative User Experience researcher at Google focusing on Privacy, sensitive data and user perceptions. He co-leads the User Experience Research team for Privacy & Security. He helped launching user-facing tools like the Privacy Dashboard, Ads Preference Manager, Inactive Account Manager, the Privacy Check-up and others. He also worked on SafeSearch, Account Recovery, Priority Inbox, Alerts and Panoramio. Before joining Google in 2008, Martin worked on both sides of the client/consultant divide to improve services and products and their interfaces. His PhD research and dissertation in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester focused on the imagination of identity through conceptions of work.

Google, Switzerland, Brandschenkestrasse 110, 8002 Zurich, Switzerland

Ryan Garner

Ryan Garner studied Sociology at The University of York, England between 1999–2002. Since then he has worked in data analytics and market research. He has over 10 years experience (including 7 years at GfK) applying his quantitative data analysis and methodological expertise to big business questions. In the past 3 years much of his work has focused on the use and application of personal data in the commercial world. His research has focused on data privacy, data ethics and strategic innovation in personal information management services. Ryan currently works for CitizenMe who aim to empower citizens to take control of their personal data.

CitizenMe – Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 1LA, UK

Accepted: 2016-06-03

Received: 2016-02-29

Published Online: 2016-07-08

Published in Print: 2016-10-28

Citation Information: it - Information Technology, Volume 58, Issue 5, Pages 217–228, ISSN (Online) 2196-7032, ISSN (Print) 1611-2776, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/itit-2016-0016.

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