Privacy cynicism: A new approach to the privacy paradox


Privacy concerns among Internet users are consistently found to be high. At the same time, these concerns do not appear to generate a corresponding wave of privacy protection behavior. A number of studies have addressed the apparent divergence between users’ privacy concerns and behavior, with results varying according to context. Previous research has examined user trust, lack of risk awareness and the privacy calculus as potential solutions to the “privacy paradox”. Complementing these perspectives, we propose that some users faced with seemingly overwhelming privacy threats develop an attitude of “privacy cynicism”, leading to a resigned neglect of protection behavior. Privacy cynicism serves as a cognitive coping mechanism, allowing users to rationalize taking advantage of online services despite serious privacy concerns. We conduct an interdisciplinary literature review to define the core concept, then empirically substantiate it based on qualitative data collected among German Internet users.

Online privacy; institutional privacy concerns; privacy cynicism; scale development; focus groups
Author biographies

Christian Pieter Hoffmann

Christian Pieter Hoffmann is professor of communication management at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies, University of Leipzig. His research is focused on online communication, trust, self-disclosure and privacy protection in social media.

Christoph Lutz

Christoph Lutz is an assistant professor at BI Norwegian Business School Oslo and research associate at the University of Leipzig. His dissertation focused on online participation. Further research interests include social media use in science and public administration, online privacy and trust, and digital serendipity.

Giulia Ranzini

Giulia Ranzini is an assistant professor at the Department for Communication Science at the VU Amsterdam. Her research interests include social media, online identities, online dating and gender-related questions in computer-mediated communication.

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