Empirical research has revealed disparities of internet users online privacy attitudes and online privacy behaviors. Although users express concerns about disclosing personal data on the Internet, they share personal and sometimes intimate details of their and others lives in various online environments. People are concerned about their privacy and would like to behave accordingly, but that lacking privacy literacy prevents them from reacting the ways that they think would most adequately reflect their attitudes and needs. Based on this rationale, we wanted to investigate the role of online privacy literacy with regard to users' implementation of data and privacy protection strategies. However, an objective and validated instrument was still missing.
Step 1: Literature review and theoretical development
In a first step and in order to implement privacy literacy in future research and policy making, we developed a comprehensive item pool to measure privacy literacy. Items were developed based on an exhaustive qualitative content analysis of prior literature on privacy literacy and a profound content analysis of different sources (privacy policies, juridical documents, EU deliverables...) capturing a variety of aspects relevant to online privacy. The scale originally encompassed five dimensions of online privacy literacy: (1) knowledge about practices of organizations, institutions and online service providers; (2) knowledge about technical aspects of online privacy and data protection; (3) knowledge about laws and legal aspects of online data protection in Germany; and (4) knowledge about European directives on privacy and data protection, and (5) knowledge about user strategies for individual privacy regulation.
This first step has been conducted as part of a "Humboldt-Reloaded-Seminar" at the University of Hohenheim and has been published here:
Step 2: Empirical development and validation
In a second step, our aim was to reduce the large item pool and develop a comprehensive, yet useable scale to measure online privacy literacy. Based on the initial item pool with 113 knowledge questions, we conducted three consecutive studies with which we tested the items for overall fit with the proposed theoretical concept. We measured all five dimensions identified in the qualitative content analysis. However, the analyses have revealed that the "legal" dimensions 3 and 4 were not distinct. The final scale hence includes only four dimensions of privacy literacy and consists of 20 items (five items per dimension).
The psychometric quality of the scale was tested using structural equation modeling. The results of the studies show that the multidimensional concept of online privacy literacy can be supported with empirical data. Further, we found a strong global factor which accounts for most of the variance in the items. We suggest to model online privacy literacy as a bifactor model (e.g., Reise, 2012) which accounts for both the global variance and domain specific variances. The model was further validated with a quota sample of German internet users (N = 1.932). Based on different criteria the scale’s quality can be regarded as good. Specifically the global factor predicted different types of data protection behavior well.
The results from these studies will be published in the journal "Diagnostica":