Consumers worry about online privacy. But are they willing to pay to ensure their privacy when browsing?
This was the question asked by researchers at George Mason University. Seeking to reveal the market price for online privacy, they partnered with Haven Insights to conduct a survey research project aimed at uncovering internet users’ actual preferences regarding online privacy—whether and how much they would pay to assuage their stated concerns about online privacy.
After extensive consultations with the George Mason University research team, Haven Insights designed an online survey instrument with a two-fold goal:
- To uncover internet users’ stated concerns and preferences regarding online privacy
- To uncover internet users’ willingness to pay to ensure their privacy online, relative to each individual respondent’s privacy concerns
Haven Insights launched the survey to more than 500 respondents across the United States, controlling for gender, income level, ethnicity and age. Robust screeners were applied to ensure respondents’ internet-use habits met the requirements and expectations of the research team, given insights from their prior work in this field. Strict quality control standards were applied to the survey response data set, and seven percent of respondents were disqualified on quality concerns.
The survey met the researchers’ expectations, both confirming their hypotheses and raising further, deeper questions about the true market value of online privacy.
“The survey illuminated just how seriously people take online privacy,” says the project director and Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University. “But oddly enough, while internet users voice concerns about online privacy, relatively few are willing to pay even a few dollars per year to ensure their privacy online.”
When asked about how much they would be willing to pay to prevent search engines, for example, from collecting their browsing history and other behavioral data, respondents showed some inconsistency between their willingness to pay for such protection per year vs. per search. While many are willing to pay a fixed per year amount for complete privacy online, the unit value of privacy by activity is difficult for consumers to breakout. This has implications both for privacy law and price-setting by internet firms.
The full findings from this study will be published in a forthcoming academic paper.