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Consumer privacy: A two essay dissertation examining perceptions of information sensitivity

Ereni C Markos, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Advances in technology and the current business environment have urged marketers, policy makers and consumers to reconsider existing definitions of information sensitivity. Technology is changing how consumers interact in the marketplace and the terms by which data is collected and shared by companies. As a result, the definition of personally identifying information (PII) is expanding to include non-personally identifying information (referred to as anonymous and linkable data) such as weight and media habits. Information sensitivity is important because it affects consumers' willingness to provide information, which in turn impacts customer relationship management. Currently, the business world defines sensitivity in terms of PII that can directly identify a consumer. However, research is increasingly showing that consumers are also concerned with anonymous data. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is discussing ways to protect both types of information, primarily due to the prevalence of behavioral tracking and other covert business tactics. Considering how important privacy is from public policy, business, and consumer perspectives, academic research has explored consumer privacy across a number of disciplines (Culnan and Bies 2003; Milne and Gordon 1993; Hoffman, Novak, and Peralta 1999). However, scant marketing research (Sheehan and Hoy 2000) examines this definitional issue. This dissertation addresses the definitional gap in the literature. Based on theories from social psychology and marketing and previous empirical work, the sensitivity of different types of information across viewer contexts (Friend, Trusted Marketer, Unknown Marketer, and Stranger/Baseline) and countries (U.S., Brazil) is examined using a two essay format. Information types investigated include traditional PII, linkable information and anonymous data that are organized by the relationship to the individual self-concept (Belk 1988). Essay one uses a US nonstudent sample for Study 1 and a student sample for Study 2, both of which are collected online. Essay two is a comparative study between Brazil and the US using two nonstudent samples collected online. Essay one focuses on the antecedents of perceived sensitivity and information disclosure in two studies. Study 1 investigates the extent that viewer context and information type impact perceived sensitivity. The results show that in some cases anonymous information is considered more sensitive than PII. Study 2 demonstrates that trust, information sensitivity and communication method influence consumers likelihood of providing information. Essay two examines perceived sensitivity and willingness to provide information across different viewer contexts in two additional studies. Study 3 provides partial replication and examines the moderating role of country and age. Results show that country moderates the relationship between information type and perceived sensitivity and between viewer context and perceived sensitivity, but age has no effect. Study 4 broadens these findings by focusing on another type of data, linkable information and the effect on perceived sensitivity and willingness to provide. Risk and cultural factors are also examined and are found to have a variable, yet strong effect.

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Recommended Citation

Markos, Ereni C, "Consumer privacy: A two essay dissertation examining perceptions of information sensitivity" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3427593.