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New research: Privacy policies influence consumer behavior online

Jim Mourey
James Mourey is an assistant professor of marketing in the Driehaus College of Business. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
Deciding how much personal information to share online has become an everyday choice for consumers. However, whose responsibility is it to keep private information safe — companies or consumers? New research from DePaul’s James A. Mourey and Ari Ezra Waldman, a professor at New York Law School, finds that consumers share less private information when companies empower them to be in charge. However, when companies communicate that they actively manage users’ privacy, consumers become even more willing to share private, personal information online.

The study, “Past the Privacy Paradox: The Importance of Privacy changes as a Function of Control & Complexity,” appeared in the April issue of the Journal for the Association of Consumer Research.

“After looking at the issue of privacy from numerous angles, we began asking the question, ‘what happens when you, as a consumer, perceive yourself as being in control of your privacy,” says Mourey, an assistant professor of marketing in the Driehaus College of Business. “It turns out that the way companies frame their approach to privacy management can affect whether or not users disclose very private information, like their home address or even intimate photos.” 

The research examines whether consumers perceive themselves or the company as being in charge of managing privacy, and second, how difficult consumers perceive privacy management to be. When managing privacy is perceived to be difficult, people share less information when they believe they are actively managing their privacy and share more information when they believe a tech company is actively managing their privacy, explains Mourey.

The study offers an alternative explanation to the privacy paradox, which posits that consumers want privacy online but act in ways that are opposite of maintaining their privacy in a cost-benefit tradeoff. The researchers found that the very importance of online privacy changes for consumers based on the context of how privacy is viewed. The relationship between privacy management, its perceived level of difficulty to maintain, and the perception about who is in charge of their privacy online predicts the propensity to share private personal information.

Head to DePaul Newsroom to read the complete release.