Would You Surrender Your Friends’ Data for Pizza?

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Strange as it may seem, a recent study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that students significantly shifted their attitudes toward privacy in return for free pizza. When asked if they would share email addresses of friends, the majority of students declined, but when the conversation expanded to include a pizza incentive, the results shifted noticeably.

Pizza and Privacy

Researchers from MIT and Stanford presented a paper entitled The Digital Privacy Paradox: Small Money, Small Costs, Small Talk at the Federal Trade Commission’s Privacy Con III on February 28, 2018. The three-person team described the privacy paradox, “where people say they care about privacy but are willing to relinquish private data quite easily.”

The paper detailed the results of a 3,000-person survey. When asked if they would share friends’ email contact data, 60 percent of the respondents said they would not. Social Security numbers (SSN) recorded a higher level of concern with 68 percent of respondents saying they would refuse to share.

Researchers then posed a question including a pizza incentive to half the students who participated in the initial survey. This incentivized group appeared twice as likely to share email data compared to the control group. Only MIT email addresses were allowed so that researchers could check for invalid entries.

Pizza and Phishing

Pizza is one powerful motivator getting recipients to click on phishing emails. According to research by KnowBe4, a data security firm that trains employees to avoid taking the bait, the offer of free food (usually pizza) was one of the four subject lines that made employees click on a phony email.

Pizza and You

What is digital privacy or data worth? The MIT researchers found that many people, even those who said they cared about privacy, were willing to exchange potentially sensitive information for relatively small incentives. Think twice before sharing data or clicking on that link in an email—even if it means saying goodbye to a free pizza.

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