Issues of Trust and Control

Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve gone from not generally making purchases or otherwise disclosing personal information online to regularly doing so. I’m sure this is the case for many people—online purchasing and using the Internet for social networking has required us to become more comfortable with it, or retreat. In this week’s reading “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online,” Carina Paine Schofield and Adam Joinson examine the complex relationship between privacy and trust and our resulting willingness to disclose information in an online environment. A lot of what they covered seemed like common sense to me. Perceived privacy contributes to trust; both are necessary for us to be willing to disclose information online.

Schofield and Joinson’s explanation of the different aspects of trust stood out to me as being particularly relevant to my own evaluation of a company’s online presence. I think I regularly (if subconsciously) make judgments about companies based on the following.

  • Ability, or the knowledge or competence of the company and its ability to handle my information appropriately.
  • Integrity, or the belief that the company is honest, reliable, and credible.
  • Benevolence, or the extent to which the company is doing right by me.

It’s almost common sense; I wouldn’t do business with someone face-to-face if I didn’t think they were competent and capable, honest and credible, and were taking my interests into account. Why should it be any different online? Admittedly, the stakes are higher in many ways online. After all, we’re leaving behind information about ourselves that doesn’t go away—ever.

I think that’s why providing users with a sense of control is especially important. Schofield and Joinson explain, “…where possible, users should be provided with control over whether to disclose personal information and the use of that personal information once disclosed” (p. 26). When we can decide whether we “prefer not to disclose” answers to certain questions, or whether we only populate the required fields, we maintain some degree of control. (For me, being able to indicate that I don’t want to receive email offers is one control option I greatly appreciate!)

Maintain some degree of control over information reminded me of the fiasco with Facebook’s privacy policy changes a few years back. Basically, Facebook changed their privacy policy, and users freaked out about it. Facebook addressed the issue a blog post, explaining in a forthcoming and straightforward way that on Facebook, people own and control their own information. This response illustrates that Facebook recognized that control (even if it’s perceived control) goes hand-in-hand with trust and privacy. By addressing users’ concerns in this way, I think Facebook did the best it could to mitigate the damage done to its users’ trust in it.

Posted on November 18, 2012, in Society, Trust. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Your discussion of how you judge a website that you will be sharing information with is very true. We do evaluate websites, as you state, subconsciously. I’m browsing on eBay, I filter my search results so that I’m only buying items from United States sellers, because I feel I have better recourse should something go wrong. This probably isn’t necessary, because eBay has some kind of coverage on all purchases, or at least that is my understanding. I suppose if I were less trusting (or ignorant, perhaps) I would be more familiar with eBay’s policies regarding fraud.

  2. I get out of your reading that we all should not just complain about privacy settings of those online websites we use but also take responsibility to maintain our own privacy as much as possible. This can be done just by easy once like you mention to control if you want to receive email offers. Another example would be to decide if you want to be logged into your FB account to search for certain information. We can’t just complain about company’s practices. There is always something what we can also do to protect our personal information.

  3. I relate well to your first sentence. I never used to make online purchases–now I find that I am almost forced to buy certain items over the internet–or go without them. As a result, I am forced to trust these websites to a degree that I am comfortable with. However, I always maintian some control by using a credit card rather than a debit/check card. Thus, money will not be taken directly from a bank account. In otherwords, I do put some faith in the internet purchases I make, but I also realize that steps must still be taken to help protect myself.

  4. Interesting that you link to the 2009 Facebook policy change. At 10pm tonight I received this “Updates to Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” email:

    We recently announced some proposed updates to our Data Use Policy, which explains how we collect and use data when people use Facebook, and our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (SRR), which explains the terms governing use of our services.
    The updates provide you with more detailed information about our practices and reflect changes to our products, including:
    New tools for managing your Facebook Messages;
    Changes to how we refer to certain products;
    Tips on managing your timeline; and
    Reminders about what’s visible to other people on Facebook.

    We are also proposing changes to our site governance process for future updates to our Data Use Policy and SRR. We deeply value the feedback we receive from you during our comment period but have found that the voting mechanism created a system that incentivized quantity of comments over the quality of them. So, we are proposing to end the voting component in order to promote a more meaningful environment for feedback. We also plan to roll out new engagement channels, including a feature for submitting questions about privacy to our Chief Privacy Officer of Policy.

    We encourage you to review these proposed changes and give us feedback before we finalize them. Please visit the “Documents” tab of the Facebook Site Governance Page to learn more about these changes and to submit comments before 9 AM PST on November 28, 2012.

    You can also follow and like the Site Governance Page for updates on this process and on any future changes to our Data Use Policy or SRR.

    How many people will take the time to give feedback, considering this email arrived the night before Thanksgiving holidays? It all comes back to the rhetorical concept of kairos, no? 😉

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