A Comprehensive Empirical Study of Data Privacy, Trust, and Consumer Autonomy

86 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2015 Last revised: 16 Feb 2016

See all articles by Jay P. Kesan

Jay P. Kesan

University of Illinois College of Law

Carol Mullins Hayes


Masooda Bashir

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Date Written: February 28, 2015


Modern society is driven by data. Data storage is practically unlimited with today’s technology, and analytical tools make it very easy to find patterns and make predictions in a way that is very useful for private businesses and governments. These uses of digital data also raise considerable privacy issues that are of great concern to consumers. In this article, we present and analyze the results of an extensive survey that we conducted to explore what people know, what people do, and what people want, when it comes to privacy online.

Our survey is the first comprehensive examination of the intersection of knowledge and opinions among the survey participants concerning online privacy, law, and the data practices of both the private sector and the government. Our survey results indicate that consumers often want more options than the market gives them. Over 80% of our survey participants, for example, indicated that on some occasion they have submitted information online when they wished that they did not have to do so. One of the possible reasons why consumers still participate in these markets is that they do not have any meaningful alternatives. The private sector currently has very little incentive to provide these alternatives because consumers have been responding to unattractive business practices with complacency. Responses to our survey also indicate a low level of trust of the government as a data collector and data keeper.

Our results indicate that significant changes are needed to increase consumer engagement in the online marketplace and improve trust between the government and its citizens. These improvements should begin by empowering users and giving them more control over their digital data, and we present ambitious proposals to this end. The long-term solution that we propose would involve an overhaul of current data privacy laws, and the creation of a profile clearinghouse that would serve a similar purpose as credit reporting bureaus. Through this clearinghouse, consumers could view and challenge most information that private businesses and the government hold about them. Dramatic changes are necessary in order to ensure that consumers can have empowering and engaging experiences in today’s world of digital data.

Keywords: privacy, internet law

Suggested Citation

Kesan, Jay P. and Hayes, Carol Mullins and Bashir, Masooda, A Comprehensive Empirical Study of Data Privacy, Trust, and Consumer Autonomy (February 28, 2015). 91 Ind. L.J. 267 (2016), University of Illinois College of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-22, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2576346 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2576346

Jay P. Kesan

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
217-333-7887 (Phone)
217-244-1478 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.jaykesan.com

Masooda Bashir

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign ( email )

601 E John St
Champaign, IL 61820
United States

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