Students are willing to trade each other’s privacy for pizza

Students are willing to trade each other’s privacy for pizza

Never trust a fellow student who claims to value privacy. Science shows that your friends will give up your digital data for a slice of pizza.

Would you trade the emails of your friends for pizza? A new study by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that you probably would.

When it comes to privacy, there appears to be a strong disconnect between what people say and what people do. Although internet privacy is one of the most widely discussed topics of our time, the MIT study suggests that people are quick to dismiss privacy concerns when offered a small incentive. “Small incentives such as a pizza can have a large effect on decisions about privacy”, the authors write.

Pizza for privacy

In the fall of 2014, every undergraduate student at MIT was offered $100 in Bitcoin. In order to create their digital Bitcoin wallet, students were required to answer a number of questions. As part of the experiment, they were asked to provide the emails of their college friends. 50% of the 3108 participating students were offered a free pizza ‘to share with friends’ in exchange for the emails of their fellow students, while the other group received no additional incentive to do so.

It turns out that pizza is hard to resist. Although polls show that 60% of American consumers say they would ‘never feel comfortable sharing their list of contacts if asked’, nearly all participants were willing to trade their friends’ emails for pizza. “Whereas people say they care about privacy, they are willing to relinquish private data quite easily when incentivized to do so”, the researchers conclude.

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