10 Mental Triggers That Get You To Throw Away Your Privacy

mental triggers that threaten your online privacy

What do online coupons, lock icons, and famous logos have in common? They can all be mental triggers that get you to give away your privacy. Researchers have found a variety of online triggers or cues affecting our privacy-related decisions [1]. Keeping the following ten mental triggers in mind can help you better protect your privacy. 

#1 Authority

When we see security seals, lock icons, or well-known brands, we assume the data we give them will be secure. We're willing to conduct online transactions on these sites without much thought. That's because we see these as symbols of authority that we can trust. Authority cues like these can trigger us to feel safe to share personal data.

#2 Bandwagon

Profile completion notifications are standard on sites for social networking and dating. A message will show the percentage of other users who have completed their profile. Triggers like this get us to jump on the bandwagon with everybody else and give out more personal information. 

#3 Reciprocity 

When somebody shares personal information with us, we can feel obligated to do the same. There's a danger of sharing too much information in online chats or on message boards. Situations like this can trigger us to reciprocate intimate self-disclosure.

#4 Sense of Community

It's common for us to divulged personal information in a community setting. People reveal personal details all the time on social and business networking sites. We seek trust and support in online communities. A sense of community makes us feel safe and can trigger us to share our lives' intimate details. 

#5 Community Building

When we're part of building an online community, we're more willing to share personal experiences and feelings. We tend to follow the rule of thumb that says, "I can contribute to building this community by sharing personal information." A community-building mentality can trigger us to share a higher level of personal information.

#6 Self Presentation

Everybody wants to project a positive image. We work to shape and control our online persona to get what we want: a date, an interview, publicity, etc. The more information we give away, the more power we feel we have. Our motivations for presenting ourselves to the online world trigger us to reveal more about ourselves.

#7 Sense of Control

We often believe that the more control we have over our information, the more privacy we have. Given a slew of privacy settings, we tend to think it's safe to add our data. A sense of control over our data can trigger us to share too much.

#8 Instant Gratification

We have a natural bias toward things that offer instant gratification, like a discount coupon. We sometimes put a more excellent value on a tangible reward than we do on our personal information. It's easy to fall for a quick fix and underestimate the risks of information disclosure. Instant gratification can trigger an instant information giveaway.

#9 Transparency

Most of us never read privacy policies. In one consumer privacy survey [2], 62% weren't worried about their data if there was open disclosure. We trust websites when they show detailed terms and conditions. This transparency can trigger us to give away personal data.

#10 Machines

It's normal to assume our information is more secure with machines. We believe machines will handle our data according to specific standards. Chatting with an AI assistant may seem more private or secure than talking with a person. The beliefs we have about machines can trigger us to give them more information.  


1. https://dl.acm.org/doi/fullHtml/10.1145/3313831.3376854#bib35

2. Jennifer M. Urban, Chris J. Hoofnagle, and Su Li. 2012. Mobile phones and privacy. BCLT Research Paper Series (Jul. 2102).