Web design and the information shown on the screen largely influences how much a user discloses personal data, says a study by Joint Research Centre (JRC).
The study used behavioural sciences to look at how individuals react to different types of privacy notices. For instance, a depiction of a person's face on the website led people to reveal more personal information, the study found.
Also, users who had attended college felt more comfortable answering questions than those who never went to college. This result challenges the assumption that the better educated are more aware of information tracking practices.
Two types of privacy behaviour were measured - passive disclosure, when people unwittingly disclose personal information, and direct disclosure, when people make an active choice to reveal personal information. After testing different designs with over 3,000 users from Britain, Italy, Germany and Poland, results showed that web interface affects decisions on disclosing personal information.
Also, this design choice and the visualisation of the user's IP or browsing history had an impact on people's awareness of a privacy notice. It found that people with a lower level of education were more likely to reveal personal information unwittingly.
This behaviour appeared to be due to the fact that non-college attendees were simply less aware that some online behaviour revealed personal information about themselves. Strong differences between countries were noticed, indicating a relation between cultures and information disclosure.
Even though participants in Italy revealed the most personal information in passive disclosure, in direct disclosure they revealed less than in other countries. Approximately 73 percent of women answered 'never' to the questions asking whether they had ever engaged in socially-stigmatised behaviour, compared to 27 percent of males.
It could also suggest women feel greater social scrutiny or are simply more cautious when disclosing personal information, the researchers said.