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Understanding Privacy Preferences Around the World

Financial Inclusion Tanzania

African businesswoman browses online in a local market | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock


Privacy is an increasingly important consideration for consumer protection in digital financial services (DFS), with privacy preferences and attitudes governing many online behaviors. However, these preferences remain one of the least understood topics in social science, particularly in the context of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), as most work on privacy preferences is conducted in the US and Europe.

Privacy considerations may be unique in LMICs. If privacy is considered a luxury, then income disparities between LMICs and richer nations could affect the perceived tradeoffs. Intrinsic privacy preferences may also differ across countries due to different cultural contexts, political, and historical reasons or demographics. The use of DFS in LMICs also differs from countries that digitized earlier. For example, many LMICs moved directly from cash to mobile payments, bypassing credit and debit cards, which could influence the formation of beliefs of privacy.

What do people prefer in terms of privacy protection and how do they consider trade-offs? How do they reason about privacy? What drives their privacy-related behaviors? And how does the structure of privacy preferences and attitudes differ across individuals within and across countries?

Study Design

This project is part of a global, fifty country effort to describe and understand individuals’ privacy preferences and attitudes online. Funding from CEGA will enable researchers to focus specifically on privacy preferences and behaviors in fifteen LMICs and their implications for consumer welfare.

The research team will work with experts, conducting interviews and focus groups, to tailor surveys for each country with questions that are relevant, properly translated, and understandable to local populations. Subsequent online surveys with a representative sample of close to 700 individuals per country, for a total of roughly 12,000 surveys across 15 LMICs will capture information on:

  1. The elasticity of privacy concerns, using messages that highlight the benefits and costs of giving up data
  2. Privacy attitudes, preferences, and behaviors, including intrinsic motivations for privacy, the ideal level of privacy, how much protection consumers believe different Privacy Enhancing Technologies would provide, and what privacy tools have participants used in the past
  3. Measures of a person’s Willingness to Accept certain losses of privacy in exchange for money

This will be, to the best of our knowledge, the first large-scale, systematic, and rigorous global evidence on privacy related preferences, beliefs, and behaviors. It is a first step towards understanding their structure, to investigate the causes and consequences of privacy related behaviors, and to contribute to the discussions on privacy policies around the globe.

Results & Policy Lessons

Results from this project are forthcoming.


2023 — 2024

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