Outcomes and Affordances: Examining why People use Encryption

Shannon M. Oltmann



This project examined the use of encryption actively enabled by everyday users, such as encrypting one’s hard drive or e-mail. Ninety-six respondents (mostly American males) were interviewed via telephone, e-mail, and instant messaging. Respondents provided unique insights into concerns about data collection and analysis. The findings indicate that encryption’s affordances include inaccessibility and unreadability. Outcomes from these affordances include security, data integrity, anonymity, preventing self-incrimination, stopping surveillance, privacy, and freedom of speech. Respondents were less focused on the affordances of encryption, instead primarily thinking about their desired outcomes. This work argues that future scholarship should consider both affordances and outcomes when analyzing why people use particular technologies and platforms.


encryption, affordances, privacy, outcomes, civil liberties

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