Have you ever posted information that is more personal or potentially identifying than you normally would? It may be related to a specific effect: privacy fatigue. This term was coined by researchers investigating the impact of events such as data hacks on individuals.
Privacy fatigue may be an increasingly prevalent psychological issue in a world with companies such as Google and Facebook in control of personal data, especially when these forms of control are found to differ from our previously-held expectations. Privacy fatigue is related to a number of negative effects including a sense of hopeless inability to maintain secure identity online.
A team of Korean researchers has also discovered that it may influence attempts to maintain or conserve online privacy in the future. These findings may have ramifications for those with interest in rights, online welfare, and data-use policies.
Fatigue and Online Privacy
Psychological fatigue is defined as reduced motivation or energy to pursue goals or ends or to maintain certain behaviors. Fatigue of various kinds can also impact on self-efficacy, or the ‘belief’ in one’s abilities to do the same. It may also lead to other emotional sequelae, such as the development of frustration, apathy or cynicism towards relevant concerns and issues.
The digital age may come with some specialized forms of fatigue all on its own. A prominent example is privacy fatigue. It may be defined as a sense of fatigue resulting from consistent impulses to maintain one’s anonymity and personal information security online. Privacy fatigue can arise as a result of being required to pay attention to issues related to digital security, consent or threats. For example, it can cause one to agree to update or agreement without reading through the privacy-related clauses associated with it first.
The Risks Associated with Privacy Fatigue
In addition, some researchers and thinkers believe that privacy fatigue reduces the probability that people will consider the consequences of the content they post in public forums and online spaces. This behavior may lead to an increased risk of hacking through the extraction of sensitive or very personal information from these sources. Furthermore, the effects of privacy fatigue may outweigh concerns related to privacy. This may exacerbate the risk of being more reckless with one’s personal details.
However, there have been few formal studies on the phenomenon of privacy fatigue or its effects, especially in comparison with those available on privacy concerns.
Therefore, a team of researchers from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea designed a project in which volunteers self-reported their levels of privacy fatigue and their behavior online.
Privacy fatigue was measured using a specifically-designed questionnaire, with items on how tired or ‘drained’ respondents felt in relation to online privacy issues. The study considered levels of active interest and engagement with these issues, the regard in which participants held these issues, and the intentions towards the protection and control of their own private data in the future. This questionnaire was administered to 324 adult volunteers with an average age of 41.
Privacy fatigue can make you much less vigilant online. (Source: Bark/Flickr)
This resulted in findings that higher levels of overall privacy fatigue had a significant effect on privacy-related coping behaviors. This translated into a reduced tendency to ‘care’ about privacy-related issues and to engage in privacy-protective behaviors, in respondents who reported higher levels of fatigue. Those who were not fatigued, however, were more likely to undertake opposing perspectives and behaviors, actively.
The results of this study also allowed the researchers to conclude that privacy fatigue was a more powerful driver of privacy-related actions compared to privacy concerns.
The researchers published this work in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior.
The writers of this paper believe that their findings may also explain how people persist in online behaviors that may result in the theft or misuse of their personal information, even in the face of well-publicized warnings about the adverse effects of doing so. On the other hand, a healthy level of concern about privacy may help protect against the same.
Therefore, this study suggests a new approach to handling the subject of online privacy by public bodies and authorities - one that tackles privacy fatigue rather than risks increasing it. For example, the repeated requests from your Google account to review your security and settings may have the opposite effect to that ostensibly intended.
This paper is an early indication of the role of privacy fatigue in our everyday lives, which are increasingly marked by online activity and interactions. It may imply the need for further work on the subject. In addition, investigations of any links between privacy fatigue and other types of fatigue – not to mention other potentially harmful effects – may also be helpful. Governments and health authorities may also need to step in to mediate the possible effects of privacy fatigue on society as a whole.
In the meantime, this study can be taken as a sign of how important it is not to become disillusioned or disinterested in issues related to online privacy and security.
Top Image: Privacy fatigue affects an individual’s ability to protect their personal data online. (Source: Pixabay)
C. Hallam, et al. (2017), ‘Online self-disclosure: The privacy paradox explained as a temporally discounted balance between concerns and rewards,’ Computers in Human Behavior, 68, pp. 217-227
H. Choi, et al. (2018), ‘The role of privacy fatigue in online privacy behavior,’ Computers in Human Behavior, 81, pp. 42-51
How Much Is Too Much When It Comes to Self-Disclosure? 2018, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201802/how-much-is-too-much-when-it-comes-self-disclosure, (accessed May 24, 2018)