Unpacking the Privacy Paradox: Users demand privacy yet continue to share, Why?

It’s getting more and more difficult to make a case for privacy when so many people are willingly sharing so much of their personal information online. Self-disclosure is now currency and digital exhibitionism is a normalized behavior, rewarded and reinforced with likes, shares and favorites across all social media platforms.

Many people across the world and here in Canada (See: The State of Social Media in Canada 2017) have fallen in love with the convenience of living out their lives online. But at the same time, people recoil with every privacy scandal and demand more control over their personal information. This phenomenon is often referred to as the “privacy paradox”.

However, there is currently an ongoing debate among some researchers about the privacy paradox. One group of researchers says it exists (meaning people have privacy concerns but it doesn’t stop them from sharing on social media); and another group of researchers say that there is no such thing as a “privacy paradox” and that people are engaged in privacy protective strategies, for example, by posting less or posting less accurate information.

In a new study, “Privacy Concerns and Self-Disclosure in Private and Public Uses of Social Media”, in the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, researchers Dr. Anatoliy Gruzd and Dr. Ángel Hernández-García attempt to unpack this paradox between users’ attitudes and their behavior (or lack of it) in the context of using social media. Their study examined users’ privacy concerns in the context of public sharing and whether these concerns predict their self-disclosure practices.

The results of their research do not support the presence of a privacy paradox in the context of sharing on social media. Specifically, their research found a relationship between two aspects of privacy concerns (concerns about organizational and social threats) and most of the five dimensions of self-disclosure (Amount, Depth, Polarity, Accuracy, and Intent). In other words, a so-called “privacy paradox” is not observed, at least not in the studied population of social media users in Canada. People are indeed actively engaging in privacy protective strategies by posting less and/or posting less accurate information, which depends on what they are most concerned about: organizations using their data or other users misusing their data.

The broader implication of this finding for tech companies and other companies wishing to use social media data and content as part of their business is that, even if information is publicly available on social media, users may still have expectation of privacy.

The published copy of the paper can be found at the journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking website.  You can also access an open access pre-print at the Ryerson University Digital Repository.


  • Gruzd, A., & Hernández-García, Á. (2018). Privacy Concerns and Self-Disclosure in Private and Public Uses of Social Media. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21(7), 418–428. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2017.0709

The study contributes to the ongoing debate about the “privacy paradox” in the context of using social media. The presence of a privacy paradox is often declared if there is no relationship between users’ information privacy concerns and their online self-disclosure. However, prior research has produced conflicting results. The novel contribution of this study is that we consider public and private self-disclosure separately. The data came from a cross-national survey of 1,500 Canadians. For the purposes of the study, we only examined the subset of 545 people who had at least one public account and one private account. Going beyond a single view of self-disclosure, we captured five dimensions of self-disclosure: Amount, Depth, Polarity, Accuracy, and Intent; and two aspects of privacy concerns: concerns about organizational and social threats. To examine the collected data, we used Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Modeling. Our research does not support the presence of a privacy paradox as we found a relationship between privacy concerns from organizational and social threats and most of the dimensions of self-disclosure (even if the relationship was weak). There was no difference between patterns of self-disclosure on private versus public accounts. Different privacy concerns may trigger different privacy protection responses and, thus, may interact with self-disclosure differently. Concerns about organizational threats increase awareness and accuracy while reducing amount and depth, while concerns about social threats reduce accuracy and awareness while increasing amount and depth.