The protection of individuals' online privacy is increasingly under pressure. Personal data are shared through digital media. Companies also request from users of their services to disclose personal information. Moreover, individuals’ search and browsing behaviour is analyzed to offer relevant personalized advertising to consumers. In addition, interpersonal communication increasingly occurs online. Within friendships and romantic relationships, sensitive information can be shared but also abused.

Since the start of the research group MIOS in 2003, we investigate several issues related to online privacy. On the one hand, we analyze the online sharing of personal information in interpersonal relationships.  On the other hand, we study the motives and consequences of individuals’ disclosure of personal information to companies. We often focus on the experiences of young people. In some specific studies, however, we compare personal data disclosure and privacy protective behaviours of adolecents and adults.

We conduct our studies together with researchers from other disciplines (psychologists, legal experts, criminologists…). Moreover, we collaborate with national and international research groups.

Our research makes use of both in-depth interviews and focus group discussions to gain insight into individuals’ motives and experiences. Next, we conduct survey-research, often in collaboration with schools. Increasingly, our studies have a longitudinal research design, where the same respondents are surveyed a number of times to investigate causal relationships. We also conduct experimental studies on online privacy to gain insight into causal relationships and processes. Our team also collaborates with a number of organisations to develop materials for prevention and intervention programmes targeting youth, parents and teachers.

Our research

One of the first studies focusing on, amongst others, online privacy that MIOS conducted in collaboration with other universities occurred within the TIRO project (2005-2007) that was financed by the federal science policy.  This study investigated adolescents’ as well as parents’ online behaviour, including the sharing of personal information online. In addition, we also studied individuals’ confrontation with specific online risks (different forms of aggressive behaviours and content, spam…). This was the first large-scale study among Belgian teenagers and their parents on online communication and the risks they are confronted with. Next followed a large number of research projects on young people’s motives to share personal information within online marketing contexts and on how they deal with personalized advertising.

Concerning interpersonal online communication, we investigate individuals’ sharing of personal data on social network sites and how online friendships develop. We also study how digital media are used for online dating.  For instance, we study how personal information about potential dating partners play a role in dating decisions.

Next, MIOS plays a leading role in the study of sexting, intimate forms of digital communication. In national and international studies we investigate motives and consequences of sexting, both within and outside romantic relationships. The way intimate information can be abused in the context of cyber dating abuse, is also investigated. Moreover, other forms of cyber dating abuse are studied in which individuals’ privacy can be breached (e.g., online controlling behaviours).

Finally, MIOS also studies parents’ role in mediating their children’s online behaviour, the protection of their privacy and how to deal with online risks. Amongst others, we conduct triadic research where both parents and children are questioned on the arrangements that are made within the family concerning digital media use. Also the impact of parental mediation strategies on young people’s online (risk) behaviours are analyzed. Our recent research also focusses on how parents disclose personal information about their children (i.e., sharenting) and children’s reactions.



  • Prof dr. Michel Walrave: online privacy, sexting, sharenting, cyberbullying, cyber dating abuse, online marketing
  • Prof. dr. Karolien Poels: advertising, advertising processing, personalisation, native advertising, advertising effects
  • Prof. dr. Koen Ponnet: media psychology, social psychology, online and offline risk behavior, adolescents, structural equation modeling
  • Prof. dr. Charlotte De Backer: social food studies, social talk, celebrities, dating behaviour, interpersonal relations
  • Prof dr. Heidi Vandebosch: cyberbullying, celebrity bashing, online prosocial behavior, (narrative) health communication
  • Dr. Joris Van Ouytsel: sexting, cyber dating abuse, online sexuality, role of digital media in romantic  relationships, media literacy education
  • Dr. Wannes Heirman: online privacy, …
  • Dr. Ini Vanwesenbeeck: online marketing, advertising literacy, parental mediation​
  • Dr. Brahim Zarouali: consumer behavior, advertising, adolescents, social media
  • Lies De Kimpe: online risk behavior, phishing, cybercrime, online coping behavior
  • Fynn Gerken: corporate communication, crisis communication, social media, economic consequences of corporate communication, information flow in capital markets
  • Lara Hallam: Online dating, interpersonal trust, online to offline modality switching, mating and dating behavior, hurt
  • Karen Verswijvel: social media, friendship quality, sharenting, professional development, gendered language, gender stereotypes
  • Evert Van den Broeck: online marketing communication, social media, personalised advertising, social  networking sites, online privacy
  • Konrad Rudnicki: biomarkers, oxytocin, biopsychology, psychophysiology, psychoneuroendocrinology

Former research group members

  • Dr. Katrien Symons: sexting, parental mediation
  • Karolien Van Nunen: security in organisations, safety culture
  • Ellen Van Gool: online self-disclosure, privacy, social network sites