UALR student researches privacy awareness on social media

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock doctoral student is out to discover how knowledgeable people are about their privacy on social media.

Terry Williams, a doctoral student in the integrated computing program, is using a series of surveys and privacy awareness tips to investigate privacy awareness and social media in her dissertation, “A Study of Privacy Awareness in the Digital Age and the Influence of Knowledge Over Time.”

Williams became interested in studying privacy when she began encountering targeted advertising, tracking technology that lets companies target online advertisements based on consumers’ previous Internet activities.

“A couple of years ago, I thought I needed some black boots, so I go to Zappos,” she said. “Later on, I was on some news site, and there are ads about little black boots. I thought it was creepy that they are following me online. It didn’t stop me from shopping online, but all the bazillion bits of information about me are out there.”

Many people are protective of personal information like phone numbers, addresses, credit cards, and Social Security numbers. However, companies track everything that people do on the internet, from web searches and online shopping to “likes” on Facebook and retweets on Twitter.

Terry Williams
Terry Williams

“It’s really much bigger than that,” Williams said. “It’s not just your identifying information, it’s about everything you do on the internet. The vast majority of people don’t even understand how much information companies have on them.”

Dr. Nitin Agarwal, the UALR Jerry L. Maulden-Entergy endowed chair and a professor of information science and Williams’ dissertation adviser, said internet users easily find themselves at risk of oversharing information.

“It is unreasonable to expect social media companies to intervene and reverse the information-sharing behaviors,” Agarwal said. “But as information privacy researchers and policy makers, we owe it to ourselves that we educate others and spread awareness about these risks. Terry’s research is a step forward in this direction. The research will inform privacy awareness education and training programs, policy and decision making, and general awareness about information sharing.”

Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and an MBA from the University of Memphis.

She has spent her career working in a variety of information technology leadership roles, including more than a decade as the information technology manager at the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory.

After becoming an adjunct instructor for ITT Technical Institute in 2001, Williams discovered a love of teaching and pursued her doctorate at UALR to become a university professor.

For more information on the study or to participate, visit Williams’ website.

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