The Nature of Risk and the Privacy Calculus

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Research questions


Statement of problem

Public safety is improved if individual users are able to make informed choices about disclosure of personal information.  Privacy calculus is a method for balancing perceived risks and benefits of online transactions (Krasnova et al. 2012; Dinev & Hart 2006).  This depends on a categorising risk, but there is no consensus on a risk typology (Rosenblum 2007; Swedlow et al. 2009, p.237; Facebook Inc. 2017; Haynes & Robinson 2015).  This research will investigate the nature of risk using empirical data from an analysis of actual user behaviour and sets out to address the following research questions:

  • Is there a reliable typology for personal risk that can be used to analyse the privacy calculus that users engage in?
  • What is the nature of the interactions and risks that users engage in when they use the Internet?
  • Can the new risk typology be applied to existing empirical data to refine the privacy calculus?
  • What effect will the new categorisation of risk have?
  • Can these figures be used to improve the predictions of user behaviour?


Dinev, T. & Hart, P., 2006. An Extended Privacy Calculus Model for E-Commerce Transactions. Information Systems Research, 17(1), pp.61–80.

Facebook Inc., 2017. Facebook Privacy Basics. Available at: [Accessed April 7, 2017].

Haynes, D. & Robinson, L., 2015. Defining User Risk in Social Networking Services. Aslib Journal of Information Management, 67(1), pp.94–115.

Krasnova, H., Veltri, N.F. & Günther, O., 2012. Self-disclosure and Privacy Calculus on Social Networking Sites: The Role of Culture. Business & Information Systems Engineering, 4(3), pp.127–135.

Rosenblum, D., 2007. What Anyone Can Know: the privacy risks of social networking sites. IEEE Security & Privacy, 5(3), pp.40–49.

Swedlow, B. et al., 2009. Theorizing and Generalizing about Risk Assessment and Regulation through Comparative Nested Analysis of Representative Cases. Law & Policy, 31(2), pp.236–269.

Exploring risk – background to this project


Rethinking the nature of risk associated with disclosure of personal information

• We are all subject to risks when we reveal our personal data on social media
• These risks are balanced against the benefits of signing up to social media
• This is known as the privacy calculus
• Many attempts have been made to identify those risks and categorise them
• The objective of this research is to gather empirical data to support/challenge the proposed risk model and to produce a robust model that can be used for quantitative studies

It is notoriously difficult to obtain quantitative measures of risk in online environments without access to the large volumes of transactional data generated by use of social media. An alternative approach is to conduct user-focused case studies to identify different types of risk and then use available data to estimate the probability and assess the impact of risk events.

The research builds on my doctoral work focused on the risks associated with access to personal data on online social networking services (SNSs) (Haynes 2015), which tested the idea that personal risk could be used as a way of assessing regulatory effectiveness (Haynes et al. 2016; Haynes & Robinson 2015).

Haynes, D., 2015. Risk and Regulation of Access to Personal Data on Online Social Networking Services in the UK. City University London.
Haynes, D., Bawden, D. & Robinson, L., 2016. A Regulatory Model for Personal Data on Social Networking Services in the UK. International Journal of Information Management, 36(6), pp.872–882.
Haynes, D. & Robinson, L., 2015. Defining User Risk in Social Networking Services. Aslib Journal of Information Management, 67(1), pp.94–115.

This Fellowship is supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Office of the Chief Science Adviser for National Security under the UK Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellowship Programme

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