Exploring digital security and privacy in relative poverty in Germany through qualitative interviews


Anastassija Kostan and Sara Olschar, Paderborn University; Lucy Simko, The George Washington University; Yasemin Acar, Paderborn University & The George Washington University


When developing security and privacy policy, technical solutions, and research for end users, assumptions about end users' financial means and technology use situations often fail to take users' income status into account. This means that the status quo may marginalize those affected by poverty in security and privacy, and exacerbate inequalities. To enable more equitable security and privacy for all, it is crucial to understand the overall situation of low income users, their security and privacy concerns, perceptions, behaviors, and challenges. In this paper, we report on a semi-structured, in-depth interview study with low income users living in Germany (n=28) which we understand as a case study for the growing number of low income users in global north countries. We find that low income end users may be literate regarding technology use and possess solid basic knowledge about security and privacy, and generally show awareness of security and privacy threats and risks. Despite these resources, we also find that low income users are driven to poor security and privacy practices like using an untrusted cloud due to little storage space, and relying on old, broken, or used hardware. Additionally we find the mindset of a—potentially false—sense of security and privacy because through attacking them, there is "not much to get". Based on our findings, we discuss how the security and privacy community can expand comprehension about diverse end users, increase awareness and design for the specific situation of low income users, and should take more vulnerable groups into account.

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