What motivates people to protect their online privacy?

The Extended Mind conducted a 1,010 person survey of U.S. participants weighted to the 2019 American Community Survey using age, gender, race, household income and census region. The goal was to assess consumer knowledge about current data practices and protections, as well as to gather consumer preferences around data management for VR and AR (XR) data. This research was funded by Meta Reality Labs.

Included in the survey were opportunities for respondents to share explanations to certain responses in their own words. Through collecting these additional qualitative responses, we were able to get a glimpse into the feelings and motivations underlying some of our results.

We took these qualitative responses, analyzed their findings, and sorted them categorically into a code book. In this blog, we’ll explore some of these responses and the patterns we saw emerging from the qualitative data.

Motivations for changing privacy settings

Thirty-seven percent (n=374) of survey respondents reported changing their privacy settings in the past three months. Respondents who changed their privacy settings within the past three months were given the opportunity to tell us their reasons for doing so.

In general, we found that they were motivated by either a desire for increased privacy or security. Those concerned about security mentioned viruses, hackers, security breaches and other security risks as things they wanted to avoid while those concerned about privacy were either concerned about privacy from other people or privacy from companies and data collection practices.

Those who wanted increased privacy from other people mentioned not wanting to share their data publicly, wanting to share less on social media, preventing information from being shared with employers, or avoiding sharing information with strangers.

Those who were concerned about data collection were particularly concerned about insufficient default settings and settings changing without their permission.

“I was uncomfortable with how much of my privacy they wanted to invade.”

“I felt like all my data was unsafe under the settings they were under.”

“New updates contain new ways to sneak into my personal space”

This might explain why other respondents mentioned that they want to customize their own settings or that they make a habit of checking on and regularly managing their privacy settings.


What all these responses have in common is a desire for more security and more privacy than is offered at the outset. While certain respondents specifically called out defaults as being insufficient, all the respondents in one way or another are expressing that industry standards of privacy and security don’t meet their personal standards.

Location tracking was particularly unpopular

Location tracking was cited specifically as something that people wanted to keep private.

“Turned off my location services on most apps because it’s none of their damn business where I am.”

“My location was given to someone that I had a restraining order on.”

“I set all my settings to private and turn off my location trackers while out with my child and fiance.”

For some, location tracking is an issue of privacy while for others it’s an issue of security. But regardless, a number of people cited location tracking as the reason they changed their privacy settings or as an example of how their data had been used in a way that felt like a privacy violation.

Products or services that people refuse to use

We were curious to know if there were specific products or services that people refuse to use due to privacy concerns. Twenty-eight percent (n=283) of our respondents claimed there were products they refused to use and we asked them to tell us what they were. The products they named tended to fall into the following categories:

  • Smart home devices
  • Social media platforms
  • Products or services offered by specific companies
  • Online platforms
  • Certain devices

Interestingly, many respondents chose to call out companies (including Google, Facebook, Apple) rather than products by name, which calls into question the role of brand reputation on product trust. More research is needed to understand the relationship between brand and product trust.


While the survey’s quantitative findings are interesting, the qualitative results offer another layer of depth to the results. They show us what’s underlying the responses of some of the respondents concerned about their privacy.

These findings highlight brand trust and default settings as being particularly relevant to people’s trust of online products and services. And while these findings aren’t definitive, they offer excellent foundations for future research into how people think about and interact with their online privacy.

You can find the complete code book in the appendix of our full research report, which you can download here: www.extendedmind.io/survey




Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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Jessica Outlaw

Jessica Outlaw

Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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