The Economics of Privacy
64 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2020 Last revised: 27 Oct 2022
Date Written: March 8, 2016
This article summarizes and draws connections among diverse streams of theoretical and empirical research on the economics of privacy. We focus on the economic value and consequences of protecting and disclosing personal information, and on consumers' understanding and decisions regarding the trade-offs associated with the privacy and the sharing of personal data. We highlight how the economic analysis of privacy evolved over time, as advancements in information technology raised increasingly nuanced and complex issues associated with the protection and sharing of personal information. We find and highlight three themes that connect diverse insights from the literature. First, characterizing a single unifying economic theory of privacy is hard, because privacy issues of economic relevance arise in widely diverse contexts. Second, there are theoretical and empirical situations where the protection of privacy can both enhance, and detract from, individual and societal welfare. Third, in digital economies, consumers' ability to make informed decisions about their privacy is severely hindered, because consumers are often in a position of imperfect or asymmetric information regarding when their data is collected, for what purposes, and with what consequences. We conclude the article by highlighting some of the ongoing issues in the privacy debate of interest to economists.
Keywords: Information Economics, Privacy, Privacy Policies
JEL Classification: D04, D18, D23, D4, D52, D6, D8, D82, D86, L1, L2, L5, L51
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation