Cell-mostly internet users place privacy burden on themselves

A new report from the Media, Inequality and Change (MIC) Center details the kinds of online privacy tradeoffs that disproportionately impact cell-mostly internet users—who are likely to be Black, Hispanic, and/or low-income.

person sits at a table with a stack of bills, three credit cards, computing on a calculator with a cell phone beside it.

Researchers Jan Fernback and Gwen Shaffer facilitated focus group discussions with 79 people in Philadelphia and Long Beach, California, all of whom rely on their phones to go online. Through participant observation, the researchers also gained insight into the most popular apps for cell-mostly internet users and how much time they spend engaging with them.

The sentiments expressed by cell-mostly internet users are not unique. Nearly all study participants shared stories of relinquishing their data privacy, which the researchers consider to be a basic human right, in exchange for the ability to access online services and platforms. Many people shared anecdotes about forgoing opportunities in an attempt to maintain data privacy.

However, participants lacked a clear understanding of how near-constant mobile internet use, including dependence on internet-connected apps, potentially compounds other inequalities that exist in their lives. Rather, study participants generally seemed resigned to their status as having little power and minimal social capital.

“Our findings shed light on the added dangers to information privacy that lower-income, cell-mostly internet users face, and how those dangers shape their online behaviors,” Fernback says.

Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.