My research focuses on the impact of communication technology on our everyday lives. Interestingly, any new technology sparks a two-sided debate both in society and academic circles: On the one hand, we find ourselves celebrating technology’s potential to create new social dynamics and to empower individuals, but on the other hand, we are paranoid by negative consequences such as ubiquitous surveillance or loss of control. In order to make informed decisions and to provide adequate recommendations in this debate, I aim at understanding both positive and negative effects of communication technologies on people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. At the moment, I focus particularly on understanding how networked environments (e.g., social network sites, instant messenger…) determine people’s privacy perceptions and how these, in turn, influence their communication behavior and relationships.

I have come to believe that people have to acquire a certain literacy in order to deal with the challenges of new online environments. The collapse of formerly distinct social contexts, the convergence of traditional media, the large-scale data collection by providers and institutions, or new media’s potential to occupy people’s minds in new ways require individuals to take elaborate and oftentimes difficult decisions when communicating and acting in multimodal online environments. What characterizes these challenges? How do people cope with them? How can we empower individuals and strengthen their self-determination in these modern media environments?

Prior research has often focused on conducting large-scale surveys and thus on investigating processes (such as the ones describes above) from a general or aggregative perspective. In my recent work, I try to overcome this limitation by adopting a situational approach. I thereby aim at analyzing how both non-situational factors (e.g., stable person characteristics such as personality or skills) as well as situational factors (both personal and environmental factors that vary accross different situations) affect people’s situational behavior. The point I want to make is that we can only understand people’s choices and behaviors by considering the situational circumstances next to person characteristics as they profoundly shape them on a daily basis.

Current projects

  • Social Influence in Online-Environments
    In this collaboration with the social media lab (director: Dr. Natalie Bazarova) at the Cornell University (Ithaca, NY, USA), we aims to investigate whether higher media literacy and subtle alterations of a social network site’s (SNS) architecture can promote more privacy-aware behavior. Prior research has shown that users of SNSs adapt to prevailing social norms. Many SNS users share intimate details of their life, thus promoting a social norm of sharing private information as an appropriate or even expected behavior. The goal of this research project is to investigate whether critical and reflective abilities and subtle design interventions can mitigate the effects of prevailing social norms and thereby promote more privacy-aware behavior on SNSs.
  • Situational Privacy and Self-Disclosure
    Dissertational project involving the development of a new theory of privacy and self-disclosure that adopts a situational perspective and thereby puts a strong emphasis on situational circumstances and their effects on situational behavior. It further involves an empirical investigation of smartphone-based communication situations by combining survey, tracking, and experience sampling methods.
  • The Transformation of Privacy (Privatheit im Wandel)
    Project under the supervision of Sabine Trepte and funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research involving a representative longitudinal panel study of the German population.
  • Conceptualizing and Measuring Online Privacy Literacy
    A long-term investigation of the role of online privacy literacy. This project includes a comprehensive theoretical development of the concept as well as the development of an objective survey instrument. The scale can be downloaded on the project website.