The Privacy Paradox: A Facebook Case Study

40 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2014 Last revised: 6 Aug 2014

See all articles by Vaibhav Garg

Vaibhav Garg

Drexel University

Kevin Benton

Indiana University

L. Jean Camp

Indiana University Bloomington - School of Informatics and Computing

Date Written: March 19, 2014


The utility of social networks is contingent on information sharing, which constrains privacy. Engaging in online social networks is seen to indicate that the participants either do not care about privacy, do not understand the risks of information sharing, or find privacy controls to be unusable. Given the contextual nature of privacy all three models may exist in the population and in fact in a single person. We introduce the three distinct academic threads leading to each model, i.e. rational economics, risk behavior, and human computer interaction. Further, we conduct a survey based study to elicit the relative strengths of these explanations for information sharing on Facebook (n=384). Our findings indicate that while all three explanations are relevant, their relative strengths are different. The perceived risk of sharing information is the most important determinant of privacy behaviors; to a lesser extent usability of privacy controls is important. Finally, privacy preferences is the least important factor; thus, the explanation that people don’t care is weakest explanation of the privacy paradox (on Facebook).

We argue that Facebook should invest in both more usable privacy controls and awareness of those controls. In general better controls and more information increased information sharing and lowered the perceptions of risk, thereby aligning expressed attitudes with observed behaviors and addressing the paradox. We note that privacy risks behaviors are determined by dread risk and familiarity on Facebook, as for risks offline. Thus, Facebook privacy efforts should leverage prior research in risk communication offline. Specifically, risk averse behaviors can be encouraged if risk communication focuses on severe, catastrophic, and rare consequences of information sharing.

Keywords: Privacy, Usability, Economics, Risk Perception, Facebook, OSNs

Suggested Citation

Garg, Vaibhav and Benton, Kevin and Camp, L. Jean, The Privacy Paradox: A Facebook Case Study (March 19, 2014). 2014 TPRC Conference Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Vaibhav Garg (Contact Author)

Drexel University ( email )

109 S. 21 St. #1
Philadelphia, PA 19103
United States
7655861002 (Phone)

Kevin Benton

Indiana University ( email )

107 S Indiana Ave
100 South Woodlawn
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

L. Jean Camp

Indiana University Bloomington - School of Informatics and Computing ( email )

901 E 10th St
Bloomington, IN 47401
United States

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