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A Grounded Theory of the Psychology of Privacy Management

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Title: A Grounded Theory of the Psychology of Privacy Management
Author: Christofides, Emily
Department: Department of Psychology
Program: Psychology
Advisor: Desmarais, Serge
Abstract: This dissertation describes the findings from a qualitative research study aimed at increasing our understanding of the psychology of privacy management. Specifically, I sought to explore people’s beliefs, perceptions, and process for managing privacy in the contexts that they inhabit. I conducted 32 one-on-one interviews with participants ranging in age from 18 to 85 years old. Using grounded theory methodology, I developed a substantive theory of privacy that outlines the way people manage their privacy in our current environment. This grounded theory takes into account people’s individual approach to privacy, the elements they consider when deciding whether or not to reveal aspects of themselves, and the behaviors they engage in to maintain their privacy or protect the privacy of others. Approach to privacy consists of beliefs about privacy, personality characteristics such as openness and self-confidence, and values, which include doing unto others, honesty, and choice (or control). In many cases this approach has never been explicitly considered, but it interacts with who one is speaking with, the topic of discussion, the context, and the perceived risks and benefits, in affecting the privacy decision. Trust is a key factor in deciding whether or not to reveal part of oneself to someone, but certain roles and relationships seem to bypass the privacy decision-making process. A risk-benefit analysis does occur, but it is one of several components that impact privacy decisions and is hampered by the emotional nature of the information that is considered. Some contexts, such as technologically mediated situations, heighten awareness of privacy issues, while others involve information or situations that are seen to override privacy rights. Ultimately, these considerations interact and lead to particular behaviors for maintaining or regaining a desired level of privacy.
Date: 2012-07
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