Sex differences in attitudes towards online privacy and anonymity among Israeli students with different technical backgrounds

Reviewed By: Sarah Potter, Esther Kim, Erin Oakden, Mariah Ramsour, Keshia Nash-Johnson

Link to article: http://informationr.net/ir/22-4/paper777.html

1. Article Synopsis
This article investigates the differences in online anonymity and privacy behavior between men and women among Israeli students with varying technical backgrounds. The purpose is to comparatively model men and women’s online privacy attitudes, and to assess the online privacy gender gap. To understand the inter-influence of different factors, assessment of men and women’s awareness of two types of threats against their online anonymity and privacy level are addressed: the technological threat such as technology that enables surveillances, detection of a user’s identity and personal details on the Web and the social threat such as exposure of a user’s identity and personal details on the Web.

The study also examines the male and female differences regarding protection of personal information on the Web, especially on social networks as well as lack of online privacy self-efficacy. Each user was measured on their familiarity level and actual usage of anonymity tools available on the Web. The study conducted considered both online privacy literacy tools and privacy literacy skills used by social users.

Male and female differences in user tendency to engage in privacy paradox behavior was also examined. For example, if a user preferred to utilize the malleability of the Internet at the expense of information security, despite concern for their online privacy.

The literature review examines the digital gap between the sexes. For example, sex differences in computer and Internet literacy, self-efficacy, and online seeking behavior, as well as previous studies related to online privacy, anonymity, and self-disclosure. The subsequent literature conclusively notes a disparity, a term some call the knowledge gap hypothesis, where behavior and attitudes do not coincide.

This study is helpful in determining a comprehensive framework for research pertaining to sex differences across a variety of factors related to privacy behavior and online anonymity. It is also the first study to investigate these issues among Israeli students who are from different academic backgrounds. The research found has important implications in regards to Internet education and reducing the digital divide among the sexes. The social and technological dimensions explored in the study also give insight into the wider contexts of cyber security, protection of personal data, and online information literacy—all of which are important topics that can relate to the international experience.

2. Core Research Questions
This study addressed five research questions relating to gender, technological safety, and privacy:
1. Are there differences in men’s and women’s awareness of technological and social anonymity threats on the Web?
2. Are there differences in men’s and women’s concern for the protection of personal information on social and non-social Websites?
3. Are there differences in men’s and women’s online privacy self-efficacy and technological and social online privacy literacy?
4. Are there differences in men’s and women’s tendency to engage in privacy paradox behavior?
5. Does higher technological online privacy literacy decrease users’ tendency to engage in privacy paradox behavior?

3. Methods
To answer the research questions, this study conducted a questionnaire with 169 Israeli college students from two colleges, Bar-Ilan University and Jerusalem College of Technology, and three departments: accounting and business management studies, information science studies, and computer science and engineering. Seventy-one men and ninety-eight women answered a forty-question survey on online privacy. The survey was broken down into six sections asking questions relating to: participant demographics, awareness of threats to technological and social anonymity, concerns for safeguarding personal information online, effectiveness of ability to protect online privacy, knowledge on technological and social online privacy, and tendencies to engage in “privacy paradox behavior.”

4. Findings and Conclusions
A comparative model was used to summarize users’ attitudes towards online anonymity and privacy and it was found that women have more social awareness online, while men have more technical awareness. Despite the closing of this gap in technological knowledge, men still have an advantage over women in relation to technology, as they have an awareness of the technological threat that resides online and have a higher online privacy literacy level.
There were four aspects of online privacy and anonymity that were analyzed:
1. Sex differences with regard to the general awareness of limited anonymity on the Web using several measures of technological and social threat awareness
2. Sex differences with regard to the level of concern for protecting personal information on both general and social networks
3. Sex differences in users’ levels of online privacy self-efficacy and online privacy literacy (technical and social)
4. Sex differences with regard to privacy paradox behavior

Women’s ability to effectively manage their online privacy in the digital age is integral to their ability to protect private information such as health information, educational information, financial information, political views, and consumption patterns. Further research is needed that generalizes the proposed methodology in this study and uses a more diverse subject group (age, education level, occupation types, cultural backgrounds, and countries of origin). The authors also suggested that further steps be taken in the future such as implementing policy intervention and educational programs on online privacy, anonymity awareness, and digital literacy so that we can eventually eliminate the inter-sex technological gap.

5. Informing American Library Program Design from Global Practices
The literature, relative research, and results of this study indicate a need for educational programming on digital literacy with an emphasis on security and privacy. The study established that the participants had varying levels of concern about what is being disclosed through their online activity. Although the focus group of this study consisted of Israeli male and female students, it is likely that these concerns are not limited to this population. Therefore, American libraries should not only provide secured online access, but libraries should also provide education about what that means. All internet users should feel confident in their knowledge of what information is at risk and how to protect themselves from inadvertent disclosures of personal information. This program could be very successful at both public and academic libraries, but could be appropriate for all environments that emphasize the importance of information literacy.