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18 April 2019

Paying With Your Privacy For Using Mobile Apps

Mobile app users often ‘pay’ for mobile services by giving permission to use their personal data. It is assumed that people are rational creatures who make a trade-off between costs and benefits when they have to decide to give personal information. A study in Decision Support Systems explores if this assumption holds in the context of mobile apps, where privacy is even more at stake. The results suggest that people are less rational than we think.

Take aways

  • Mobile app users make a trade-off between costs and benefits when providing personal information: they discount their privacy if they can have short-term benefits like using a valued app.
  • Because consumers do not seem sufficiently equipped to make informed decisions about privacy when downloading apps, they may need more protection from policy makers.

Study information

  • Who?

    Study 1: 183 participants (mean age: 21, 83% female)

    Study 2: 687 participants (mean age: 52, age range: 18-87, 47% female)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    In both studies, participants read an online scenario in which they received a permission request from a mobile app that they would either miss most (high value app) or least (low value app) if they had to delete it. For some participants, the app wanted access to a lot of personal information, while for others it only asked for limited access. Then, participants answered questions about their intention to accept the request, how much they liked the app and how much they worried about their privacy.

Facts and findings

  • Participants were more inclined to accept the permission request when they highly valued the app, but when they thought the app was intrusive or when they worried about their privacy, they were less inclined to accept the request.
  • Participants with low privacy concerns intended to accept the request of a highly valued app, no matter how intrusive it was, but the intrusiveness of the app did influence their decision when the app was of low value.
  • Participants who were highly concerned about their privacy, were still relatively likely (30%) to accept permission requests, even if the app was of low value to them.