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Cambridge study finds privacy risks from survey over-sharing

25 Jun 2012
Internet checklist

Users unknowingly put themselves at risk when filling out online surveys and other forms, according to researchers.

A joint study from the University of Cambridge and University College London found that when filling out online forms, users are more willing to disclose more data than is necessary or requested.

The study, which surveyed a pool of 1,500 users, found that 82 per cent were willing to provide more information than was asked for. Additionally, 57 per cent of respondents were willing to disclose their full birth date without prompt.

Additionally, researchers found that respondents also tended to answer more questions than necessary, even when informed that certain questions were not mandatory. In a follow-up survey, just eight per cent of those surveyed considered the data they had disclosed to be sensitive information.

"The received wisdom is that filling these forms in is a nuisance and that users complete as little of them as possible to protect themselves and save time," said University of Cambridge researcher Sören Preibusch.

"Our study suggests that in fact people consistently and consciously disclose personal information, even when they know that doing so is optional."

Management of sensitive information has become an issue for both companies and users. While many companies are focusing on user-tracking and other involuntary forms of data collection, security firms are also trying to address how to best protect data that users voluntarily hand over.

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Shaun Nichols
About

Shaun Nichols is the US correspondent for V3.co.uk. He has been with the company since 2006, originally joining as a news intern at the site's San Francisco offices.

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