Are people really happy to give up their privacy online ?

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Privacy attitudes and privacy behaviour: A review of current research on the privacy paradox

Studies show that privacy is a primary concern for citizens of the digital age. However, this worry about privacy is sometimes not reflected in related behaviours creating a contradiction between privacy attitudes and actions; this is often referred to as the privacy paradox. Many individuals are willing to reveal personal information in return for some benefit even though they recognize the importance of privacy. Research that attempts to explain this phenomenon has found inconsistent results.

Kokolakis examines the research on the privacy paradox to illustrate the diversity of results and research methods used to understand this complex phenomenon. There is both evidence that supports and evidence that challenges the idea of a privacy paradox. Researchers have turned to various disciplines in search of theories that can contribute to the conceptualization of the phenomenon and the investigation of probable explanations. Most studies focus on individual aspects of the privacy paradox phenomenon. This has led to a need for integrative studies based on comprehensive theoretical models that take into account the diversity of personal information types and privacy concerns.

Any discussion on privacy is highly contextual and interpretive. Personal information is not homogeneous and individual attitudes towards privacy vary depending on the type of personal information involved. Some types of privacy concerns may have a stronger influence on attitudes and behaviours than others. Furthermore, much of the research on the privacy paradox suggests that individuals do not understand privacy in the digital world. While giving your name and address to a stranger on the street seems unsafe, individuals consistently disclose that same information online.

Kokolakis provides a number of recommendations for future research on the privacy paradox. As surveys can be unreliable data for actual user online behaviour, the author suggests avoiding self-reports of behaviour. Further research should also take into account the diversities of personal information types, privacy concerns and harms. Each individual will have varying perspectives on the importance of their information and how information disclosure could be harmful.

A privacy paradox is a new concept that is not yet understood. Any research should take into account that privacy is a highly contextual phenomenon. The samples chosen for study should be as representative of the public as possible because the privacy paradox not only concerns users of all ages but it also may affect them differently. Studies of the relationship between privacy behaviours and privacy awareness campaigns or improving privacy enhancing technologies could add depth to the privacy paradox phenomenon research.

There is evidence of a difference between privacy attitudes and behaviour. However, the extent, dynamics, cause, nuances and implications are far from being understood. Decision-making should not be based on the assumption of a privacy paradox and our current primitive understanding of this complex phenomenon. Only future research matured by the work done to date can provide the clarity required for good policy.

Privacy Calculus Theory

Individuals make privacy decisions as rational agents – perform a cost-benefit analysis of expected loss of privacy and the potential gain for disclosure.

Emotional Rewards

Users experience emotional rewards of belonging to a community, rewards that are concrete and immediate, which override the abstract, calculated risks of data misuse.

Optimism Bias

Individuals have a tendency to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others.

Affect Heuristic

Users tend to underestimate the risks of information disclosure when confronted with a user interface that elicits positive affect.

Bounded Rationality

People do not have access to all necessary information and lack the cognitive ability to calculate privacy risks and disclosure benefits.


The outcome of a decision making process is determined at the time the decision is made but not prior to it, altering user preferences indeterminately.

Although there are differences between privacy attitudes and behaviour, this is perhaps due to poor decision-making and not reasoned choice.