What motivates you to share your personal information online? Alessandro Acquisti studies the behavioral economics of privacy (and information security) in social networks.

Why you should listen

Online, we humans are paradoxical: We cherish privacy, but freely disclose our personal information in certain contexts. Privacy economics offers a powerful lens to understand this paradox, and the field has been spearheaded by Alessandro Acquisti and his colleagues' analyses of how we decide what to share online and what we get in return.

His team's surprising studies on facial recognition software showed that it can connect an anonymous human face to an online name -- and then to a Facebook account -- in about 3 seconds. Other work shows how easy it can be to find a US citizen's Social Security number using basic pattern matching on public data. Work like this earned him an invitation to testify before a US Senate committee on the impact technology has on civil liberties.

Read about his work in the New York Times »

What others say

“Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is something of a pioneer in this emerging field of research. His experiments can take time. The last one, revealing how Facebook users had tightened their privacy settings, took seven years. They can also be imaginative: he has been known to dispatch graduate students to a suburban mall in the name of science. And they are often unsettling.” — Somini Sengupta, The New York Times

Alessandro Acquisti’s TED talk

More news and ideas from Alessandro Acquisti