Date of Original Version




Rights Management

Abstract or Description

While Internet users claim to be concerned about online privacy, their behavior rarely reflects those concerns. In this paper we investigate whether the availability of comparison information about the privacy practices of online merchants affects users’ behavior. We conducted our study using Privacy Finder, a “privacy-enhanced search engine” that displays search results annotated with the privacy policy information of each site. The privacy information is garnered from computer-readable privacy policies found at the respective sites. We asked users to purchase one nonprivacy- sensitive item and then one privacy-sensitive item using Privacy Finder, and observed whether the privacy information provided by our search engine impacted users’ purchasing decisions (participants’ costs were reimbursed, in order to separate the effect of privacy policies from that of price). A control group was asked to make the same purchases using a search engine that produced the same results as Privacy Finder, but did not display privacy information. We found that while Privacy Finder had some influence on non-privacy-sensitive purchase decisions, it had a more significant impact on privacy-sensitive purchases. The results suggest that when privacy policy comparison information is readily available, individuals may be willing to seek out more privacy friendly web sites and perhaps even pay a premium for privacy depending on the nature of the items to be purchased.