Secrecy, flagging, and paranoia: Adoption criteria in encrypted e-mail

Shirley Gaw, Edward W. Felten, Patricia Fernandez-Kelly

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

79 Scopus citations


We consider the social context behind users' decisions about whether and when to encrypt email, interviewing a sample of users from an organization whose mission requires secrecy. Interview participants varied in their level of technical sophistication and in their involvement with secrets. We found that users saw universal, routine use of encryption as paranoid. Encryption flagged a message not only as confidential but also as urgent, so users found the encryption of mundane messages annoying. In general, decisions about encryption were driven not just by technical issues such as usability, but also by social factors. We argue that understanding these social factors is necessary to guide the design of encryption technologies that can be more widely adopted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCHI 2006
Subtitle of host publicationConference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Conference Proceedings SIGCHI
Number of pages10
StatePublished - 2006
EventCHI 2006: Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Montreal, QC, Canada
Duration: Apr 22 2006Apr 27 2006

Publication series

NameConference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Proceedings


OtherCHI 2006: Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
CityMontreal, QC

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


  • Activism
  • Encrypted e-mail
  • Extended case method
  • Security


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