Enhancing User Privacy Through Ephemeral Sharing Design: Experimental Evidence from Online Dating

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/isre.2021.0379

Users on online dating platforms tend to encounter a cold-start problem, with limited user engagement in the initial stages of the matching process; this is partially due to privacy concerns. In this study, we propose ephemeral sharing as a privacy-enhancing design to strike a balance between users’ privacy concerns and the need for voluntary information disclosure. Ephemeral sharing refers to a digital design in which the information shared (e.g., a personal photo) becomes invisible and irretraceable to the receiver shortly after the receipt of such information. In partnership with an online dating platform, we report a large-scale randomized field experiment with more than 70,000 users to understand how ephemeral sharing influences users’ disclosure of personal photos, match outcome, and receiver engagement. The experiment features a treatment group in which subjects can upload an ephemeral photo along with their matching request and a control group in which subjects can instead upload a persistent photo. We find that users in the treatment group send more personal photos (and ones with human faces) compared with users in the control group. Additionally, the ephemeral sharing treatment leads to a higher number of matches and a higher level of receiver engagement. Further analyses suggest that the treatment effects are more salient for privacy-sensitive senders. Moreover, we find that the treatment effects on match outcome and receiver engagement can be explained by increases in the disclosure of personal photos. Last, through an online experiment, we show that ephemeral sharing increases disclosure intention by reducing privacy concerns related to data collection, dissemination, and identity abuse. Our study contributes to the literature and practice on privacy-enhancing designs for online matching platforms.

History: Alessandro Acquisti, Senior Editor; Beibei Li, Associate Editor.

Supplemental Material: The online appendix is available at https://doi.org/10.1287/isre.2021.0379.

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