Privacy Nudges: An Introduction

Privacy Nudges: An Introduction

Barbara Sandfuchs (University of Passau, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8153-8.ch015


To fight the risks caused by excessive self-disclosure especially regarding sensitive data such as genetic ones, it might be desirable to prevent certain disclosures. When doing so, regulators traditionally compel protection, for example by prohibiting the collection and/or use of genetic data even if citizens would like to share these data. This chapter provides an introduction into an alternative approach which has recently received increased scholarly attention: privacy protection by the use of nudges. Such nudges may in the future provide an alternative to compelled protection of genetic data or complement the traditional approach. This chapter first describes behavioral psychology's findings that citizens sometimes act irrational. This statement is consequently explained with the insights that these irrationalities are often predictable. Thus, a solution might be to correct them by the use of nudges.
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Irrational Behavior

Based on the general principle of the homo economicus, scholars call to deploy libertarian paternalistic measures to nudge citizens into limiting self-disclosure to what is in their rational interest. Such measures are mostly not regarded to endanger the citizens' rights, but as an instrument to help citizens.

Economic theory is based on the assumption that humans are rational actors who know their preferences and aim to maximize their utilities. Preferences can include non monetary goods like happiness or the protection of privacy. As alternatives tend to be limited, rational actors choose the best available alternative. The constrained maximum is reached when marginal costs equal marginal benefits, i. e. a raise in costs would not lead to a proportionate raise in benefits (Cooter & Ulen, 2010, p. 22).

As has been pointed out by various others in this book, maintaining privacy in genetic data can be of great value to citizens. Nevertheless, citizens may disclose genetic data without receiving adequate benefits. Thus, assuming

  • 1.

    That citizens value their genetic privacy.

  • 2.

    That they often do not receive adequate benefits for disclosing genetic data.

  • 3.

    That it often would only cost low efforts to protect genetic data, many citizens act differently from what would be in their rational interest.



Findings of behavioral psychology show that citizens act predictably irrational (Ariely, 2010). In the face of too complicated situations, rational decisions are replaced by simplifying models, approximation strategies or heuristics (Acquisti & Grossklags, 2008). Citizens seem a) often not to be sufficiently informed, and b) to act predictably irrational.

Genetic data may, even though to a smaller extent than less sensitive data, be disclosed without knowledge about all important aspects relevant to the underlying decision.

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