Although we were successful at locating many existing studies about the manner in which most users perceive their privacy online, we felt that it was important to obtain additional information about the manner in which users act online in order to present a fuller picture of online privacy policies and their impact on user behavior.
To this end, we surveyed 92 Stanford University affiliates (current students, alumni, staff, and friends) by asking them to complete an online survey (currently this survey can be found here). Because the purpose of this survey was to target our study of online privacy issues towards the concerns of those around us, we did not concern ourselves with creating an exceptionally comprehensive set of questions. Instead the survey was designed to be short enough so that subjects might be willing to fill it out despite their own busy schedules.
We hypothesized that results would parallel our own personal feelings about privacy online: users are reticent to share personal information online for fear that it will be misused. At the same time, however, we believed that most users do not frequently read online privacy policies prior to providing personal information, instead, they will omit or falsify whatever information they do provide so as to minimize the potential negative repercussions. Additionally, our preliminary conversations with members of the surveyed population showed that some users see no reason to read privacy policies when they are simply reusing an online service that they safely used at least once previously.
Our study produced the following results:
Are you ever concerned about privacy whenever you are online?
What percentage of the time do you read privacy policies?
What percentage of the time do you omit personal information online?
Have you ever falsified information?
Do you know of any circumstances in which your private information has been misused?
How often do you use an anonymizer to protect your privacy?
Do you encrypt e-mail for privacy reasons?