How Do You Feel About Privacy? An Implicit Association Test with the Online World – by “Bobby D”

When Justice Scalia got wind of the online dossier a Fordham Law class had compiled about his personal life using information found online, he was not pleased. “Every single datum about my life is private? That’s silly,” he had previously scoffed. But his tone after the class had done its work was quite different. “This exercise is an example of perfectly legal, abominably poor judgment. Since [the professor] was not teaching a course in judgment, I presume he felt no responsibility to display any,” he remarked after the fact. Harsh, Scalia. Embarrassed?

This change in point of view seems pretty drastic. Whether compiling the dossier was appropriate is an interesting issue, but we took something different away from this incident. Scalia’s heated response posits a question: is what we think about our privacy different from how we actually feel about our privacy?

To investigate further, we designed an Implicit Association Test to examine the implicit and subconscious associations between elements of the online world. Other IATs have yielded controversial results (tl;dr, you’re more racist than you think). The test works by timing subjects’ reaction times in sorting words into two different control categories. The control categories are then combined with two target categories to see which category is more readily associated with which control word. In the case of our experiment, the control words were “safe” and “dangerous.” In the first test, we compared them to “Internet” and “Physical World,” and in the second, “Facebook” and “Google.”

Our experiment produced some interesting results. Most notably, the results highlight the Americans’ widespread wariness of the Internet’s dangers. We hope the results of our experiment will be a useful insight into the minds of Internet users and participants as we continue to forge policy that shapes how we interact with the virtual world. !


Take the test or view our results and analysis at!


Ric Best PC ’14

Bobby Dresser PC ’14

Zack Reneau-Wedeen TC ’14

Ike Silver BK ’14

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