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A Query-Theory Perspective of Privacy Decision Making

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Long-standing policy approaches to privacy protection are centered on consumer notice and control and assume that privacy decision making is a deliberative process of comparison between costs and benefits from information disclosure. An emerging body of work, however, documents the powerful effects of factors unrelated to objective trade-offs in privacy settings. In this paper, we investigate how focusing on the process by which individuals make privacy choices can help explain the impact of rational and behavioral factors on privacy decision making. In an online experiment, we borrow from query-theory literature and measure individuals’ considerations (that is, queries) across manipulations of rational and behavioral factors. We find that effects of rational and behavioral factors are associated with differences in the order and valence of queries considered in privacy settings. Our results confirm that understanding how differences in privacy choice emerge can help harmonize disparate perspectives on privacy decision making.

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