We would screw over our friends for a free slice of pizza, study says

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Amy Swales
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We’d do anything for our friends, we say, and usually, we mean it.

But involve a beloved foodstuff – say, pizza – and apparently we’re not quite as fiercely loyal.

Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University recruited 3,108 MIT students with Bitcoin accounts to look into digital currency.

The data was then used to investigate consumer behaviour around safeguarding their privacy online. And one particular experiment revealed that most people – 98%, in fact – would hand over the email addresses of three of their friends in exchange for a mere slice of pizza.


The authors write: “Whereas people say they care about privacy, they are willing to relinquish private data quite easily when incentivised to do so.” The incentive, in this case, being a delicious slice of Italian goodness.

Interestingly, half of the sample were offered the pizza and half weren’t, and the percentage of those willing to give up their friends’ details dropped without pizza on offer, but perhaps not as much as you might expect – 94% handed over the addresses with no food bribe in sight.

It could indicate we just give up pretty easily, as there was no option to not provide an email address at all. The remaining 6% in the non-pizza group gave fake details.

The paper, published by National Bureau of Economic Research, had an important point to make about how we protect ourselves online – that while we state we are concerned about security, our actions say otherwise, and we often freely give up our privacy for convenience or reward.

The authors cited three findings from the data: “First, the effect small incentives have on disclosure may explain the privacy paradox: whereas people say they care about privacy, they are willing to relinquish private data quite easily when incentivized to do so.

“Second, small navigation costs have a tangible effect on how privacy-protective consumers’ choices are, often in sharp contrast with individual stated preferences about privacy.

“Third, the introduction of irrelevant, but reassuring information about privacy protection makes consumers less likely to avoid surveillance, regardless of their stated preferences towards privacy.”

All of which means we say we’re bothered about staying secure online, but if it promises freebies, takes too long or looks kind of like it’s probably maybe OK, we’ll throw caution to the wind.

While loads of us are still using easily hackable passwords such as ‘123456’, ‘qwerty’ and, yes, ‘password’, what did we expect? Time to up our game…

Image: iStock / Rex Features


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.