Survey Research into the Privacy and Security Experiences of Low-SES Populations

This project makes a fundamental contribution to understanding the everyday privacy and security-related behaviors of low-SES adults and seek to answer key questions that can ground the policy conversations and debates about privacy and security in the digital age:
  • Where do privacy and information security-related practices “fit in” to the everyday lives of low-SES adults? What are the other priorities and concerns that they are trying to balance when making technology-related decisions in a typical day?
  • Where do low-SES adults seek privacy and security-related advice and guidance? How confident do they feel and what kinds of privacy and security practices would they like to learn more about?
  • Among parents, how do they rate the resources their children have access to at their schools and local libraries? What privacy and security-related skills do they think are important for their children to have?
  • To what extent do low-SES adults rely on shared computing environments and mobile devices for internet access? How does this vary by other demographic factors such as age, gender and occupation?
  • What non-technical steps do low-SES adults take to create some level of privacy and trust in spaces where and when they want it? To what extent do they value more public engagement in certain environments?
  • What are the attitudes and experiences of low-SES adults regarding information collection by employers—whether through workplace monitoring or as part of the job application process?
  • How—if at all—have negative experiences with identity theft or reputational harms affected this group differently than adults in higher-SES groups?
This project is supported by a grant from the Digital Trust Foundation, and benefits from the input and generous participation of a distinguished Research Advisory Board.

Journal Articles and Papers

Washington University Law Review | 03.11.17

Privacy, Poverty and Big Data: A Matrix of Vulnerabilities for Poor Americans

Mary Madden, Michele E. Gilman, Karen Levy, Alice E. Marwick

An examination on how poor Americans are impacted by privacy violations with discussion on how to protect digital privacy for the vulnerable.
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paper | 10.24.16

The Class Differential in Big Data and Privacy Vulnerability

Mary Madden, Michele Gilman, Karen Levy, Alice Marwick

Introduction: Low-income communities have historically been subject to a wide range of governmental monitoring and related privacy intrusions in daily life. The privacy harms poor communities and their residents suffer...
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Press Coverage


How to Protect Your Data Online

For Adweek, Data & Society Health + Tech Mary Madden advises on how to protect our data online. “With Madden at the helm, Data & Society published a study, Privacy,...
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The New York Times

Creepy or Not? Your Privacy Concerns Probably Reflect Your Politics

Data & Society Researcher Mary Madden shared insights from her 2017 report on privacy attitudes in low-socioeconomic status populations. “’We saw that in general Democrats have a higher concern...
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The Wall Street Journal

Stop Facebook From Using Your Private Info: A Beginner’s Guide

How can we keep protect our privacy from Facebook? Data & Society Health + Tech Engagement Lead Mary Madden offers some advice. “It’s smart to periodically check for unsavory...
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As Amazon Looks To Unlock Your Door, Taking Stock Of Meaning Of Privacy

D&S researcher Mary Madden discusses the security and privacy issues related to Amazon’s new door-unlocking service. “It’s easy to see the ways in which some of these technologies will...
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Research Advisory Board Members

Mary Culnan
Professor Emeritus, Bentley University
Senior Fellow & President, Board of Directors, Future of Privacy Forum

Urs Gasser
Executive Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Professor of Practice, Harvard Law School

Michele E. Gilman
Venable Professor of Law, University of Baltimore Director, Saul Ewing Civil Advocacy Clinic

Seeta Peña Gangadharan
Assistant Professor, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics and Political Science
Program Fellow, New America's Open Technology Institute
Affiliate, Data & Society Research Institute

Gretchen Livingston
Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center

Alondra Nelson
Dean of Social Science, Columbia University
Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies, Columbia University

Joe Turow
Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Harlan Yu
Principal at Upturn
Non-Residential Fellow, Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School


Mary Madden


Mary Madden is a veteran technology researcher, writer, and public speaker. She is currently a Research Lead at the Data & Society Research Institute in New York City, where she directs an initiative to explore the impact of data-centric systems on Americans’ health and well-being. Prior to her role at Data & Society, Mary was a Senior Researcher for the Pew Research Center’s Internet, Science & Technology team in Washington, DC and an Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. She is a nationally-recognized expert on privacy and technology, trends in social media use, and the impact of digital media on teens and parents.

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