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: Other publicationsOther scientific publications


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
PublisherFrontiers Media S.A.
Place of PublicationSchweiz
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2020

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