MIT Study Finds Students Will Give Away Friends’ Emails for Pizza

Exposure, Online privacy, Surveys

If you were asked to provide the email addresses of your closest friends in exchange for a free pizza to share with them, would you do it?

Would you give their real emails?

A study of 3,108 MIT students (Athey, Catalini, and Tucker 2017) found that 98% were willing to give up the email addresses to get the pizza, and 94% were still willing to do so for no incentive. Within these high percentages, there is some evidence of masking. The collected email addresses were checked for validity against a MIT directory to tell whether or not they were fake. In the group that did not receive a pizza incentive (at first), 6% provided fake email addresses. To count as deliberate masking, all the addresses the students provided had to be mismatches with the database, in order to rule out any inadvertent typos. The researchers found that when students are offered the pizza incentive, there is a 54% reduction in the probability that they will provide all fake email addresses. There were no significant differences in the results by gender, technology preferences, year of study, or even stated privacy preferences. Even those who were considered “privacy-sensitive” by their reported privacy concerns did not respond differently to the pizza incentive than the rest of their peers. This is solid continued evidence of the privacy paradox: that our privacy behaviors contradict our privacy attitudes.

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