online consumer behavior

We Say We Want Privacy Online, But Our Actions Say Otherwise

In this Harvard Business Review article, Leslie John analyzes the conflict between consumer concerns with online privacy and the actual behavior of consumers, which includes sharing private photographs and broadcasting personal activities on social media. John labels this contrast between concern and behavior as the “privacy paradox.”  She uses insights from behavioral psychology and the social sciences to explain the prevalence of this paradox.

John summarizes the reasons for the inconsistency between consumer privacy concerns and behaviors.  These reasons include:

-Privacy is a faceless issue. Covert tracking of online behavior does not concern consumers.  However, targeted or highly personalized advertisements concern consumers because they feel violated by such ads.

-Sharing feels good. Recent neuroscientific research reveals that self-disclosure is intrinsically rewarding.

-Websites use defaults. Consumers don’t usually opt-out of preset options.

-People disclose more to computers than to each other. They are less concerned with bots and algorithms reading their mail than with human scanning.

-People don’t realize the implications of what they are revealing. Consumers may not understand that personal data, shopping habits, etc. when combined may be very revealing.

-People underestimate the threat of privacy violations. The author refers to a survey revealing that 56% of respondents were overly optimistic about their probability of avoiding identity theft.

John believes that the lack of consistent concern by consumers about privacy, and the interests of online companies in making information easily available may require government regulation to protect consumer privacy.


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