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Are There Evolutionary Roots To Privacy Concerns?

Researchers: Alessandro Acquisti, Laura Brandimarte, Jeff Hancock

Research Area: Privacy Protection

Abstract

We posit and investigate an evolutionary account of privacy concerns. Since evolution rewards the ability to detect and react to threats in an organism's physical environment, many species have developed perceptual systems specially selected to assess sensorial stimuli for current and material risks. For humans, those stimuli may have included the perception of the presence of other entities, including human beings, in one's proximal physical space, and the ability to rapidly differentiate between friends, strangers, and potential foes. Under such account, territorial and bodily privacy concerns may have evolved from actual safety and security considerations; modern informational privacy concerns may be distant evolutionary byproducts of those ancestral systems. While it is not possible to test such conjecture directly, indirect evidence compatible with the account can be obtained by investigating the impact that external stimuli in the physical world have on privacy behavior in cyberspace. We present the design and preliminary results of a stream of controlled experiments with human subjects, in which we explore the influence that offline cues and stimuli, indicating the presence of other human beings in the proximal space of a subject, and processed partly unconsciously by our brains, can have over online disclosure behavior.