How Well Do My Results Generalize? Comparing Security and Privacy Survey Results from MTurk, Web, and Telephone Samples presented at IEEESymposium 2019

by Michelle l. Mazurek, Elissa M. Redmiles, Sean Kross,


Summary : Security and privacy researchers often rely on data collected from Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) to evaluate security tools, to understand users' privacy preferences and to measure online behavior. Yet, little is known about how well Turkers' survey responses and performance on security- and privacy-related tasks generalizes to a broader population. This paper takes a first step toward understanding the generalizability of security and privacy user studies by comparing users' self-reports of their security and privacy knowledge, past experiences, advice sources, and behavior across samples collected using MTurk (n=480), a census-representative web-panel (n=428), and a probabilistic telephone sample (n=3,000) statistically weighted to be accurate within 2.7% of the true prevalence in the U.S. Surprisingly, the results suggest that: (1) MTurk responses regarding security and privacy experiences, advice sources, and knowledge are more representative of the U.S. population than are responses from the census-representative panel; (2) MTurk and general population reports of security and privacy experiences, knowledge, and advice sources are quite similar for respondents who are younger than 50 or who have some college education; and (3) respondents' answers to the survey questions we ask are stable over time and robust to relevant, broadly-reported news events. Further, differences in responses cannot be ameliorated with simple demographic weighting, possibly because MTurk and panel participants have more internet experience compared to their demographic peers. Together, these findings lend tempered support for the generalizability of prior crowdsourced security and privacy user studies; provide context to more accurately interpret the results of such studies; and suggest rich directions for future work to mitigate experience- rather than demographic-related sample biases.