Trading Privacy for Public Good: How Did America React During COVID-19?
65 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2020 Last revised: 5 Jan 2022
Date Written: January 1, 2022
Crises, such as earthquakes and pandemics, heighten the demand for public good, including fund, blood, and increasingly digital public good, such as personal location data. While theories and anecdotal evidence suggest that individuals might increase private provision of digital public good during crises despite privacy concerns, empirical evidence remains scant. We hence tackle this topic of theoretical and policy significance, by leveraging the novel location big data and COVID-19 crisis as a natural shock, when location data are being prominently enlisted by the public and private sectors to combat the pandemic and become a widely publicized digital public good for individual contributions. Analyzing 22 billion records of individual-level location data across 20 U.S. cities, we present some of the first, also population-scale, evidence of the reduced opt-out of location tracking or increased private provision of a valuable digital public good during a crisis. Leveraging three alternative metrics of the inclination for public good, we demonstrate that a stronger opt-out decline is linked to greater COVID policy compliance, lower individualism, and stronger self-reported inclination for public good. All analyses, supported by a wide array of robustness tests, offer coherent evidence that public good, beyond personal benefit-risk considerations examined by the literature, serves as a prominent driver of the observed opt-out decline. Overall, despite heterogeneities across political ideology and demographics, individuals in the U.S. form a unified front in trading off personal privacy for public good amid the COVID-19 crisis, hence shedding important lights on privacy regulations and policy making
Keywords: consumer privacy, location tracking, smartphone, public health, COVID-19
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