Modeling online social network users' profile attribute disclosure behavior from a game theoretic perspective

Jundong Chen, Ankunda R. Kiremire, Matthias R. Brust, Vir V. Phoha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Privacy settings are a crucial part of any online social network as users are confronted with determining which and how many profile attributes to disclose. Revealing more attributes increases users' chances of finding friends and yet leaves users more vulnerable to dangers such as identity theft. In this paper, we consider the problem of finding the optimal strategy for the disclosure of user attributes in social networks from a game-theoretic perspective. We model the privacy settings' dynamics of social networks with three game-theoretic approaches. In a two-user game, each user selects an ideal number of attributes to disclose to each other according to a utility function. We extend this model with a basic evolutionary game to observe how much of their profiles users are comfortable with revealing, and how this changes over time. We then consider a weighted evolutionary game to investigate the influence of attribute importance and the network topology in selecting privacy settings. The two-user game results show how one user's privacy settings are influenced by the settings of another user. The basic evolutionary game results show that the higher the motivation to reveal attributes, the longer users take to stabilize their privacy settings. Results from the weighted evolutionary game show that users are more likely to reveal their most important attributes than their least important attributes regardless of the risk. Results also show that the network topology has a considerable effect on the privacy in a risk-included environment but limited effect in a risk-free environment. Motivation and risk are identified as important factors in determining how efficiently stability of privacy settings is achieved and what settings users will adopt given different parameters. Additionally, the privacy settings are affected by the network topology and the importance users attach to specific attributes. Our models indicate that users of social networks eventually adopt profile settings that provide the highest possible privacy if there is any risk, despite how high the motivation to reveal attributes is. The provided models and the gained results are particularly important to social network designers and providers because they enable us to understand the influence of different factors on users' privacy choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18-32
Number of pages15
JournalComputer Communications
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Game theory
  • Nash equilibrium
  • Privacy settings
  • Replicator dynamics
  • Social network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications


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