Timing is Everything? The Effects of Timing and Placement of Online Privacy Indicators

Privacy and Security, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing and Internet

Article Snapshot


Alessandro Acquisti, Lorrie Faith Cranor, Serge Egelman and Janice Y. Tsai


CHI '09: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2009


This study looks at how the timing of displays of privacy information changes the behavior of consumers online.

Policy Relevance

Timing and the nature of items being purchased affect how much consumers are willing to pay for privacy.

Main Points

  • Few consumers read or understand the privacy policies posted by web sites that describe how information about the transaction is used.
    • Most consumers do not recognize privacy seals, and firms that post privacy seals may not protect privacy more than those that do not.

  • Laboratory studies controlled when and where information about privacy appeared on the site, as well as the level of privacy provided, the price, and the items available for purchase.

  • The timing of privacy information displays was important in determining whether users were willing to pay more for items from sites that protected their privacy more.
    • When privacy levels were displayed with search results, before consumers visited the site, they were more willing to pay a higher price for more privacy.

  • When users were willing to look at multiple web sites, the display of privacy information alongside search results had less impact.

  • Users pay more attention to privacy information when buying sensitive items like sex toys than ordinary things like batteries; often, for ordinary items like batteries consumers are not willing to pay more for privacy. 

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