Preserving User Privacy Through Ephemeral Sharing Design: A Large-Scale Randomized Field Experiment in the Online Dating Context

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See all articles by Yumei He

Yumei He

Tsinghua University

Xingchen Xu

Tsinghua University

Ni Huang

University of Houston - C.T. Bauer College of Business

Yili Hong

University of Houston - C.T. Bauer College of Business

De Liu

University of Minnesota - Minneapolis

Date Written: December 1, 2020

Abstract

Communication cold-start problems are pervasive in privacy-sensitive settings. For example, due to privacy concerns, users of online dating platforms often refrain from voluntary sharing of sensitive personal information in the initial interaction stage. However, the lack of information sharing impedes trust building, further hurting their probability of securing matches in online dating due to information asymmetry. Considering the privacy-authenticity dilemma and the communication cold-start problem, we examined ephemeral sharing as a privacy-preserving mechanism to navigate the balance between users’ privacy concerns and information sharing in the initial interaction stages in online dating. Ephemeral sharing refers to the digital design that once the information being shared by a sender is disclosed to a receiver for a relatively short period, it will be invisible and non-retrievable to the receiver in the future. In partnership with Summer, an online dating platform, we report a large-scale randomized field experiment with over 70k users to understand how ephemeral sharing influences users’ information sharing behavior and their subsequent matching outcomes. We find that the subjects in the ephemeral group send a significantly larger number of personal photos along with their matching request and a more significant number of photos disclosing the human face. Meanwhile, the ephemeral sharing treatment also leads to a more significant number of matches. Further, through causal mechanism tests, we find that the observed effect on the matching outcomes is fully explained by the increases in requests with photo, a proxy of disinhibition. The sequential mediation tests further show that the increased sharing of personal photos also increases the dating request receivers’ conversational engagements. Lastly, we apply a recursive partitioning algorithm to explore the heterogeneity in the disinhibition effect, and the results illustrate that the platform can perform treatment optimization based on gender, education, and user popularity. Our study contributes to the literature on the design of matching platforms and the literature on using ephemeral sharing designs to address communication cold-start problems in privacy-sensitive settings. Our findings on ephemeral sharing also provide actionable practical implications for the privacy-preserving design of matching platforms.

Keywords: Ephemeral sharing, online dating, privacy-preserving design, information disclosure, randomized field experiment

Suggested Citation

He, Yumei and Xu, Xingchen and Huang, Ni and Hong, Yili and Liu, De, Preserving User Privacy Through Ephemeral Sharing Design: A Large-Scale Randomized Field Experiment in the Online Dating Context (December 1, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=

Yumei He

Tsinghua University

Beijing, 100084
China

Xingchen Xu

Tsinghua University

Beijing, 100084
China

Ni Huang

University of Houston - C.T. Bauer College of Business ( email )

Houston, TX 77204-6021
United States

Yili Hong (Contact Author)

University of Houston - C.T. Bauer College of Business ( email )

Houston, TX 77204-6021
United States

De Liu

University of Minnesota - Minneapolis ( email )

110 Wulling Hall, 86 Pleasant St, S.E.
308 Harvard Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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