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]. Keep the following ten mental triggers in mind to 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 common 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. This happens 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 intimate details of our lives. 

#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. Our online presence is important. We work to shape and control our online persona so we can 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 believe it's safe to add our personal 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 greater value on a tangible reward than we do 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% of the people 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 they're designed to handle our information according to certain standards. Chatting with an AI assistant may seem more private or secure than chatting 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).