Whether we’re internet experts or not, most of us have some knowledge of the dangers posed when using a public network. However, up until recently, not much was known about netizens’ conduct while using public networks. A recent study has revealed that individuals’ online behavior is affected by Wi-Fi location.
According to researchers, some people demonstrate a tendency known as “publicness heuristic”, which is a mindset that prevents someone from revealing private things in public. S. Shyam Sundar, James P. Jimirro Professor of Media Effects, who worked with Maria Molina and Andrew Gambino, both doctoral candidates in mass communication, explained that the study’s goal was not only to understand if individuals would hold on to that publicness heuristic, but also to find out if location makes a difference in how that person conducts himself or herself online. Additionally, the way other factors would impact how individuals browse online were considered, such as the existence of terms and conditions by the wireless provider and the presence of a VPN logo.
The study looked into individuals’ perception of privacy and security when accessing the internet in four different locations, those being home, university, Airbnb, and a coffee shop. In addition, investigators split participants’ behavior into four categories. They can be classified as unethical behavior, ethical behavior, disclosure of financial information, and disclosure of personal information.
The results showed that those who had a publicness heuristic considered that coffee shops were less secure than other environments and were therefore less likely to share personal information, such as credit card data, or to engage in unethical behavior. Investigators noted that there is a need to leverage the positive heuristics triggered by location, VPN logo, and a terms and conditions statement for ethical design practices. They also mentioned that it is important for designers to make people aware that they are in a public space, so they can make good decisions about their online behavior.
In fact, public spaces are being used more and more for purposes other than casual browsing. The growing trend of remote work has made coffee shops a regular stop for those who don’t want to spend their whole day at home. Similarly, as the line between work and free time becomes more blurred, it is common for those who are travelling to access sensitive information while connected to a public network, like hotel Wi-Fi. Using a VPN is then an essential step to protect yourself from attackers.
However, more private locations can also be targeted by malicious observers. While you may be the only person using your network, all your personal information is exposed to your ISP, who can sell it to third parties. The use of a VPN program will not only hide your location, but also encrypt your connection, making it impossible for third parties to have access to your data.
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