Timing is Everything? The Effects of Timing and Placement of Online Privacy Indicators

Article Source: CHI '09: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2009
Publication Date:
Time to Read: 1 minute read
Written By:


Janice Y. Tsai

 Serge Egelman

Serge Egelman

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This study looks at how the timing of displays of privacy information changes the behavior of consumers online.


Policy Relevance:

Timing and the nature of items being purchased affect how much consumers are willing to pay for privacy.


Key Takeaways:
  • Few consumers read or understand the privacy policies posted by web sites that describe how information about the transaction is used.
    • Most consumers do not recognize privacy seals, and firms that post privacy seals may not protect privacy more than those that do not.
  • Laboratory studies controlled when and where information about privacy appeared on the site, as well as the level of privacy provided, the price, and the items available for purchase.
  • The timing of privacy information displays was important in determining whether users were willing to pay more for items from sites that protected their privacy more.
    • When privacy levels were displayed with search results, before consumers visited the site, they were more willing to pay a higher price for more privacy.
  • When users were willing to look at multiple web sites, the display of privacy information alongside search results had less impact.
  • Users pay more attention to privacy information when buying sensitive items like sex toys than ordinary things like batteries; often, for ordinary items like batteries consumers are not willing to pay more for privacy.



Alessandro Acquisti

About Alessandro Acquisti

Alessandro Acquisti is a Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University. He is the co-director of the CMU Center for Behavioral Decision Research (CBDR), a member of Carnegie Mellon Cylab, and is currently a Principal Investigator on the Usable Privacy Policy Project, a multi-year collaborative project funded by the National Science Foundation and involving Fordham Center on Law and Information Policy and computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford.

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Lorrie Faith Cranor

About Lorrie Faith Cranor

Lorrie Faith Cranor is the Director and Bosch Distinguished Professor in Security and Privacy Technologies of CyLab and the FORE Systems Professor of Computer Science and of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University. She also directs the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory (CUPS) and co-directs the MSIT-Privacy Engineering masters program. She teaches courses on privacy, usable security, and computers and society.

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