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.

Coalition for Better Ads

Advertising, Online privacy, Surveys

Continuing on the theme of advertisers posturing to save you from ads, a newer coalition comprised of ad agencies and tech companies, is supporting pre-installation of ad-blockers on your web browser. Ok, Coalition for Better Ads, why would you support ad-blocking?

The coalition points to research sponsored by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which finds that people who use ad-blockers primarily do so because loud and interactive ads are annoying and cause pages to load too slowly. The coalition wants to block ads that essentially “ruin it for the good ads.” [My quote].

In reporting this research, the IAB immediately focuses on, “how do we win them back?” Privacy is not mentioned in the IAB summary on why people block ads, a very notable absence. Privacy is, however, a close second motivation for ad-blocking in the full report: People do not like ads that target or follow them.

Despite this, the Coalition for Better Ads is reportedly not focusing on privacy protection in its advocacy for browser ad-blocking.

64% of Americans Have Experienced a Major Data Breach


Results are in from a 2016 Pew survey on digital privacy, and they show high levels of experience with some form of privacy infringement. Of the 1,041 adults surveyed,

64% have experienced some kind of data breach.

41% have experienced credit card fraud.

16% have had email accounts co-opted.

15% have had Social Security #s compromised.

Half do not trust the federal government or social media sites to protect their data.

Half feel their data is less secure than it was 5 years ago.

Americans are very divided on the issue of encryption, with younger adults and Democrats expressing greater support for unbreakable encryption technology: 46% believe government should be able to access encrypted devices during criminal investigations, while 44% believe encryption should not be breakable to anyone.