From The New York Times
By Somini Sengupta
Say you’ve come across a discount online retailer promising a steal on hand-stitched espadrilles for spring. You start setting up an account by offering your e-mail address — but before you can finish, there’s a ping on your phone. A text message. You read it and respond, then return to the Web site, enter your birth date, click “F” for female, agree to the company’s terms of service and carry on browsing.
But wait: What did you just agree to? Did you mean to reveal information as vital as your date of birth and e-mail address?
Most of us face such decisions daily. We are hurried and distracted and don’t pay close attention to what we are doing. Often, we turn over our data in exchange for a deal we can’t refuse.
Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, studies how we make these choices. In a series of provocative experiments, he has shown that despite how much we say we value our privacy — and we do, again and again — we tend to act inconsistently.
Mr. Acquisti is something of a pioneer in this emerging field of research. His experiments can take time. The last one, revealing how Facebook users had tightened their privacy settings, took seven years. They can also be imaginative: he has been known to dispatch graduate students to a suburban mall in the name of science. And they are often unsettling: A 2011 study showed that it was possible to deduce portions of a person’s Social Security number from nothing but a photograph posted online. He is now studying how online social networks can enable employers to illegally discriminate in hiring....
He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in Rome and master’s degrees in the subject from Trinity College in Dublin and the London School of Economics, and he became interested in the economics of privacy while studying for a doctorate in the interdisciplinary School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley....