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Risk of Disclosure, Perceptions of Risk, and Concerns about Privacy and Confidentiality as Factors in Survey Participation

Publication Abstract

Couper, Mick P., Eleanor Singer, Frederick G. Conrad, and Robert M. Groves. 2008. "Risk of Disclosure, Perceptions of Risk, and Concerns about Privacy and Confidentiality as Factors in Survey Participation." Journal of Official Statistics, 24(2): 255-275.

This article reports on a web-based vignette experiment investigating how likely subjects would be to participate in surveys varying in topic sensitivity and risk of disclosure. A total of 3,672 participants each responded to a series of eight vignettes, along with a variety of background questions, concerns about confidentiality, trust in various institutions, and the like.

Vignettes were randomly assigned to respondents, such that each respondent was exposed to four levels of disclosure risk for each level of topic sensitivity (high versus low). Half the sample was assigned to receive a confidentiality statement for all eight vignettes, while the other half received no mention of confidentiality in the vignettes. The order of presentation of vignettes was randomized for each respondent.

Respondents were also asked for their subjective perceptions of risk, harm, and social as well as personal benefits for one of the eight vignettes. Adding these questions permits us to examine how objective risk information presented by the researcher relates to the subjective perception of risk by the participant, and to assess the importance of both for their willingness to participate in the surveys described.

Under conditions resembling those of real surveys, objective risk information does not affect willingness to participate. On the other hand, topic sensitivity does have such effects, as do general attitudes toward privacy and survey organizations as well as subjective perceptions of risk, harm, and benefits. We discuss the limitations and implications of these findings.

PMCID: PMC3096944. (Pub Med Central)

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