New research findings out of the University of Arizona Eller College of Management reveal that we may not care that much about online privacy—sharing information online is never, in reality, a “simple” decision. Additionally, if we want to change online piracy behaviors, we might have to guilt people into it.

Two new studies by Matthew Hashim, assistant professor of management information systems, delve deeper into our behavior online. 

Regarding online privacy, Hashim found that people claim to care about their online private information, who it is shared with, and what information is shared. However, they don’t understand the value of that information, even after they have learned the consequences of disclosing their personal information.

“Making people more aware of privacy issues does not necessarily make them care more,” says Hashim. “And drawing attention to online privacy risks through visual saliency only goes so far in educating people about the risks involved.”

To truly educate people on the risks of providing information online, policymakers may need to require businesses to describe what they’re capturing, how they intend to use it, and the risks involved with doing so. Co-authored with faculty from Kansas State University and Emory University under the title “Relative Privacy Valuations Under Varying Disclosure Characteristics,” this research is forthcoming in Information Systems Research.

Hashim also conducted studies related to online piracy and found people are more likely to engage in digital piracy (i.e. downloading music) if they have engaged in this ‘bad behavior’ in the past.

“People rationalize downloading illegally unless it’s made clear to them in a personal way that there are consequences,” says Hashim. “In other words, our past behaviors override our morals, shaping how likely we are to engage in piracy. However, this rationalization can be overcome if a message is personal to us.”

For example, on its own, a message such as “Don’t download because it is illegal” is not compelling because it’s not personal. More effective messaging calls out the person in a morally-salient way—as in “You’re harming another person through your decision to pirate.”

“Morally-salient anti-piracy messages—those that remind people of their moral obligations—may help reduce online piracy,” says Hashim. Co-authored with faculty from Purdue University and Ohio State University, this research was published in 2018 in Journal of Management Information Systems under the title “Central Role of Moral Obligations in determining Intentions to Engage in Digital Piracy.”