My thesis addresses the psychological processes involved in privacy management in social media. I examine how users value and manage their privacy, how they understand their privacy options, and the mental models they create of privacy interfaces. This may aid the design of user-friendly privacy solutions that work with a user’s attitude towards their privacy. By assessing how effectively users can generate mental models of current privacy interfaces, it will also be possible
My initial research addressed privacy attitudes, how users managed their privacy settings, and their primary concerns about Facebook. It was found that users largely restricted their content to be viewed only by their friends, and were more concerned with being able to exert control over their information rather than restrict access to it. It was also found that users did not feel confident that their privacy settings were configured correctly.
My second study addressed in more detail the issue of how social media users are handling the privacy of their personal data, and also how they handle their relationships in the context of privacy and conflict management. It also served to further explore some issues relating to use and understanding of privacy settings that were not fully answered in my first study. Here, it was found that users were largely successful in configuring their privacy settings, but tended to encounter problems when friends posted content that pertained to them on Facebook (i.e. tagged posts). It was also found that users were largely avoidant when conflict occurred, and preferred to either ignore unpleasant situations, or deal with them in a manner that was entirely unnoticeable by others.
My third study focused on how current social media interfaces serve to help or hinder social interaction and privacy management. Interviews were conducted with a variety of users in order to assess their needs and desires when going forward in social media, as well as examine the conflicts they have encountered, and their causes.
My fourth study addressed how well users actually understood how their data was viewed by others, and identified the mental models that they operated under when posting on Facebook. This study found that users frequently employed incorrect or incomplete mental models, and also encountered difficulties relating to the complexity of their social network.
My next study will deal with practical solutions to the problems raised in my existing work. A number of privacy interfaces will be designed and assessed in their ability to avert or solve the conflicts reported in my qualitative work, as well as the cognitive problems identified in my work on mental models.
At the time of writing, planning for my final study is in progress, and all data collection and analysis is expected to conclude by April 2015. Writing up will be conducted concurrently, and it is anticipated that the submission of my thesis will occur in September 2015
This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/G037574/1) and by the RCUK’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute (RCUK Grant No. EP/G065802/1)