Strangers on a Plane: Context-Dependent Willingness to Divulge Sensitive Information
New marketing paradigms that exploit the capabilities for data collection, aggregation, and dissemination introduced by the Internet provide benefits to consumers but also pose real or perceived privacy hazards. In four experiments, we seek to understand consumer decisions to reveal or withhold information and the relationship between such decisions and objective hazards posed by information revelation. Our central thesis, and a central finding of all four experiments, is that disclosure of private information is responsive to environmental cues that bear little connection, or are even inversely related, to objective hazards. We address underlying processes and rule out alternative explanations by eliciting subjective judgments of the sensitivity of inquiries (experiment 3) and by showing that the effect of cues diminishes if privacy concern is activated at the outset of the experiment (experiment 4). This research highlights consumer vulnerabilities in navigating increasingly complex privacy issues introduced by new information technologies.
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