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The Economic Research Institute, Stockholm School of Economics SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Business Administration

No 2002:5:
Perceived information technology risks and attitudes

Lennart Sjöberg ()

Abstract: Risk has been a focal dimension in much of the debate about attitudes toward technology. In the present paper, the development of research on risk perception is reviewed, from its beginnings in the end of the 1960's. The received view on factors in risk perception is that of the psychometric model and social trust. It is pointed out that this approach gives only an incomplete understanding of risk and risk acceptance, and some missing elements are delineated, such as Tampering with Nature, which is an important factor in technology acceptance, and trust (or distrust) in science, and the embracing of alternative views on the nature of the world and knowledge (New Age). Several methodological points are also important. Risks should be studied with regard to one’s own personal (personal risk), and to others (general risk), because these dimensions often differ and they have different implications. It should also be observed that the most important risk aspect is severity of consequences of unwanted events or accidents, not their probability. When it comes to attitudes toward technology it is argued that the replaceability of a technology is an important factor. IT risks have been investigated in a major survey carried out with a representative sample of the Swedish population. The main finding was that IT risks were seen as pertinent mainly to others, implying that people (rightly or wrongly) perceived that they could protect themselves from IT risks. IT risks are finally regarded in the light of Stigma Theory, which has been devised to understand some social and political reactions to risks, and it is held that it is unlikely that IT will become a stigmatized technology, partly because it is seen as irreplaceable. Yet, many IT risks are very real and many people are aware of them. In particular, personal integrity is threatened and the very novelty of the technology involved is probably the cause why ethical and legal developments lag far behind. Initial one-sided positive statements about IT are likely to be followed by more sober assessments of this technology which brings many blessings but also an increasing number of serious risks.

Keywords: risk perception; information technology; attitudes toward technology; (follow links to similar papers)

16 pages, May 3, 2002

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