Trading Privacy for Public Good: How Did America React During COVID-19?

65 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2020 Last revised: 5 Jan 2022

See all articles by Anindya Ghose

Anindya Ghose

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business

Beibei Li

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Meghanath Macha

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Chenshuo Sun

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business

Natasha Zhang Foutz

University of Virginia

Date Written: January 1, 2022

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Ghose, Anindya and Li, Beibei and Macha, Meghanath and Sun, Chenshuo and Foutz, Natasha Zhang, Trading Privacy for Public Good: How Did America React During COVID-19? (January 1, 2022). NYU Stern School of Business, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3624069 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3624069

Anindya Ghose

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 West 4th Street
Suite 9-160
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

Beibei Li

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Meghanath Macha

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213
United States

Chenshuo Sun (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 W 4th Street
Suite 9-160
New York, NY 10012
United States

Natasha Zhang Foutz

University of Virginia ( email )

1400 University Ave
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
4349240873 (Phone)
22904 (Fax)

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