The online privacy paradox
Study on the online privacy considerations of internet users

Consumers generally claim that they strongly value their privacy and that they are concerned about the use of their personal data by organizations. In practice, however, consumers undertake very little to protect their privacy. This is the so-called “privacy paradox”. Consumers trade off the pros and cons of disclosing personal information.

On behalf of ECP (Platform for the Information Society) and XS4ALL, CentERdata conducted research to gain more insight into these online privacy trade-offs. The central research questions were:

  1. How do internet users respond to concrete situations in which their privacy is under pressure?

  2. To what extent is their response consistent with their general privacy concern and their other online behaviour (e.g. on social media)?

To answer these questions, online experiments were conducted. Participants in these experiments were asked to imagine being in certain situations and to indicate whether or not to they would allow organizations to use their personal data. 

The results of the ECP study show that Dutch people share personal information more often than one would expect based on their acceptance level. In about 1 in 5 cases (18%), people shared their personal information with the organization, even though they actually considered the data usage unacceptable. Missing out on a certain benefit if you do not share your information (e.g. you do not receive a discount) can convince people to provide personal information. However, a large benefit may also have the opposite effect. It may arouse suspicion – “why are my data so important to that company?” – which sometimes makes people even less willing to share personal information.

The results of the XS4ALL study show that XS4ALL customers, even though they are relatively heavy users of online services, are more critical and concerned about their privacy compared to the average Dutch person. They are less likely to share personal information with organizations, especially when the scenarios were about targeted marketing or targeting by organizations. This behavior also corresponds with the privacy attitude and other online behavior: the more privacy conscious XS4ALL customers are, and the more they do to protect themselves online, the less likely they would allow other organizations to use their personal information.

The (powerpoint) report for ECP can be found here (in Dutch).

Related projects