social psychological approaches to understanding why people are blasé about data security

I’m reading Untangling the Web, by Aleks Krotoski, as an accessible precursor to beginning to engage with the social psychological literature on online behaviour. It’s proving to be an enjoyable read so far, though maybe not quite as much of a pop social psychology book as I had hoped it would be. It’s more of a collection of thoughtful tech journalism than anything else. But I just came across a good example of what I was initially looking for: different (mutually compatible) social psychological explanations for why people are so blasé about their data. From page 133-134:

There are indeed a few things that are psychologically unique about interacting via machines. First, we don’t expect consequences. The web feels ephemeral, separate from so- called real life. What happens online stays online. That’s totally untrue, of course. As we continue to intertwine our lives with technology, our virtual and physical selves evolve into the same beast, and therefore it’s impossible to separate the consequences that affect one from the other. Something said or done in one place can easily be taken out of context and dropped into another. Ask the many people who’ve been fired from their jobs for posting party pictures on their Facebook timelines.

Second, according to the Ohio study, online we experience an extreme version of the so- called “third person effect”: we rationalise, through our infernal, eternal human nature, that if something’s going to go wrong, it’ll happen to the other guy. So we won’t change our privacy settings on a social network or turn off cookies on our browsers to keep the details of our surfing away from advertisers: only when we experience a personal violation will we be more careful to protect ourselves and our information.

Third, we’re unable to imagine the vastness of the potential audience we communicate with when we’re online, so we treat the computer like a confidant, a confessor. We have an intimate relationship with our computer terminals; our laptops, mobile phones, desktops and tablets feel private, and the networks we hang out in feel closed. In order to make a connection with others, we feel it’s OK to share private information. “We think the web is a kind of conversation,” explains Dr Kieran O’Hara, a philosopher and web scientist at the University of Southampton. “It feels a bit like writing letters, a bit like a telephone conversation. But it’s all that and much more.”

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