Would You Sacrifice Your Privacy to Protect Public Health? Prosocial Responsibility in a Pandemic Paves the Way for Digital Surveillance (Brief Research Report)

Bernadette Kamleitner, Michail Kokkoris

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review

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Digital surveillance methods, such as location tracking apps on smartphones, have been implemented in many countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not much is known about predictors of their acceptance. Could it be that prosocial responsibility, to which authorities appealed in order to enhance compliance with quarantine measures, also increases acceptance of digital surveillance and restrictions of privacy? In their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world communicated that self-isolation and social distancing measures are every citizen’s duty in order to protect the health not only of oneself but also of vulnerable others. We suggest that prosocial responsibility besides motivating people to comply with anti-pandemic measures also undermines people’s valuation of privacy. In an online research conducted with US participants, we examined correlates of people’s willingness to sacrifice individual rights and succumb to surveillance with a particular focus on prosocial responsibility. First, replicating prior research, we found that perceived prosocial responsibility was a powerful predictor of compliance with self-isolation and social distancing measures. Second, going beyond prior research, we found that perceived prosocial responsibility also predicted willingness to accept restrictions of individual rights and privacy, as well as to accept digital surveillance for the sake of public health. While we identify a range of additional predictors, the effects of prosocial responsibility hold after controlling for alternative processes, such as perceived self-risk, impact of the pandemic on oneself, or personal value of freedom. These findings suggest that prosocial responsibility may act as a Trojan horse for privacy compromises.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 502019 Marketing
  • 502020 Market research
  • 501021 Social psychology
  • 501002 Applied psychology

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