In the digital age that we are living, one of the major concerns is the protection of our privacy. Research shows that 90% of all online consumers either do not disclose any personal information to companies at all or choose to disclose only to the ones committed to fully protecting their privacy (Taylor, 2003). On the other hand, companies need as much data regarding their customers as possible, in order to be able to provide them with effective personalized product recommendations.
The study of Lee, Ahn et al. delves into this topic by following a very interesting method of research. By implementing game theory, the authors studied the impact of autonomous privacy protection decisions, by firms, on competition, pricing and social welfare. Additionally, this research sheds light on the impact of a regulated environment, regarding privacy protection implementation, on social welfare.
The three main findings:
- Asymmetric protection mitigates competition. In simple words, when there are differences between the privacy protection measures that firms implement in any given market, the firm with the strongest privacy protection policy is able to increase its profitability by getting access to a wider pool of consumer data. This simply happens because this firm inspires customers to feel confident to share their personal data with it.
- The strategies that firms implement regarding privacy protection should be based on two criteria:
- Investment cost of protection. This factor introduces the notion that firms in order to implement a privacy protection policy incur some costs such as, infrastructure, personnel and training costs.
- Size of the personalization scope. This perception regards the pool of the customers for which companies possess personal information and thus are in a position of offering them personalized products or services.
- Regulation is socially desirable. According to the research, this holds true since, although the autonomous decisions of firms improve social welfare in general, they redistribute the benefits between firms and customers with firms enjoying the benefits and customers becoming worse-off.
As it can become easily understood, there are many stakeholders when it comes to privacy protection decisions. This research provides a robust foundation regarding the factors that managers should take into account while making decisions concerning their firm’s privacy protection policy. As far as academia is concerned, it connects privacy, in a personalization setting, with equilibria points regarding competition in a market setting. Finally, regulators have one additional source of guarantee that the introduction of privacy protection legislation will be beneficial for society.
In order for all the interested parties to be able to evaluate the findings of this study, it should be underlined, that the authors, in order to calculate the equilibrium in the market, used the notion of firm and customer privacy calculus. This notion advocates that both consumers and firms are perfectly capable of calculating the profits and costs of disclosure of their personal information and the decision of the implementation of a protection strategy respectively. However, this might not always be the case since a lot of biases take place in these processes, as research has already proven.
Sutanto, J, Palme, E, Chuan-Hoo, T, & Chee Wei, P 2013, ‘ADDRESSING THE PERSONALIZATION-PRIVACY PARADOX: AN EMPIRICAL ASSESSMENT FROM A FIELD EXPERIMENT ON SMARTPHONE USERS’, MIS Quarterly, 37, 4, pp. 1141-A5, Business Source Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 February 2017.
Taylor, H. 2003. “Most People Are ‘Privacy Pragmatists’ Who, While Concerned about Privacy, Will Sometimes Trade it Off for Other Benefits,” The Harris Poll #17, Harris Interactive, New York, March 19 (available at http://www.harrisinteractive. com/harris_poll/index.asp? pid=365)