A Cross-Country Study of Comparative Optimism About Privacy Risks on Social Media

Hichang Cho, Miriam Metzger, Sabine Trepte, Elmie Nekmat


People exhibit comparative optimism about privacy risks, believing that they are personally less vulnerable to privacy threats than their average peers, and yet comparative optimism about privacy threats can lead to reckless online behaviors. However, little is known about (a) to what degree comparative optimism about privacy is culturally robust or variable and (b) under which conditions such optimism is mitigated or intensified. We collected survey data from three countries (n = 501, 545, and 433 from Germany, Singapore, and the United States, respectively) about users’ perceived privacy risks on social networking sites (SNSs). Results showed that comparative optimism about privacy is prevalent in all three countries, but its levels vary across countries. Specifically, comparative optimism was highest in the United States. Individual-level factors such as indirect experience of privacy risks, engagement with privacy-protection behaviors, and SNS usage predicted the extent of comparative optimism experienced. Culture predicted the magnitude of comparative optimism but did not moderate the relationships between those individual-level factors and comparative optimism, indicating that the theoretical relationships observed in this study are robust.


comparative optimism, optimistic bias, privacy, privacy risks, social networking site, social media

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