Want to maintain privacy and professional distance? Don’t reach for your phone. A trio of giant studies from the University of Pennsylvania shows that people disclose more personal information from smartphones than from computers. The oversharing takes place across social media, online reviews, surveys, and consumer ads.
At issue is that on phones, people naturally respond from a personal perspective. For example, tweets and reviews written on smartphones are more likely to discuss family, personal friends, and emotions. Phone users are also more likely to disclose private details such as their income and phone number—to online ads. In other words, basic self-protective instincts dissipate the moment you pick up your phone.
The reason, the researchers say, is that people perceive their phones as a safe zone, associated with comfort and familiarity. “Because our smartphones are with us all of the time and perform so many vital functions in our lives, they often serve as ‘adult pacifiers’ that bring feelings of comfort to their owners,” says Shiri Melumad, an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Phones’ size also has an impact: Because they’re so small, interacting with them requires more focus, thereby drawing the user’s concentration away from issues such as privacy. (Researchers note that the same effect is in play when people stare at their phones on the street, oblivious to traffic.)
The researchers evaluated 369,161 tweets, 10,185 TripAdvisor.com restaurant reviews, and 19,962 web ads that asked consumers to provide private information. Their underlying finding, that the device people use impacts their disclosures, is a big deal.
Marketers can capitalize on these findings by using smartphones to gather consumers’ preferences and needs, as well as encouraging customers to post reviews from phones, which will likely be “perceived as more persuasive.”