A comprehensive empirical study of data privacy, trust, and consumer autonomy

Jay P. Kesan, Carol M. Hayes, Masooda N. Bashir

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Modern society is driven by data. Data storage is practically unlimited with today's technology, and analytical tools make it easy to find patterns and make predictions in a way that is very useful for private businesses and governments. These uses of digital data can raise considerable privacy issues that are of great concern to consumers. In this Article, we present and analyze the results of an extensive survey that we conducted to explore what people know, what people do, and what people want when it comes to privacy online. Our survey is the first comprehensive examination of the intersection of knowledge and opinions on topics including online privacy, law, and the data practices of both the private sector and the government. Our survey results indicate that consumers often want more options than the market gives them. Over 80% of our survey participants, for example, indicated that on some occasion they have submitted information online when they wished that they did not have to do so. One of the possible reasons why consumers still participate in these markets is that they do not have any meaningful alternatives. The private sector currently has very little incentive to provide these alternatives because consumers have been responding to unattractive business practices with complacency. Responses to our survey also indicate a low level of trust of the government as a data collector and data keeper. Our results indicate that significant changes are needed to increase consumer engagement in the online marketplace and improve trust between the government and its citizens. These improvements should begin by empowering users and giving them more control over their digital data, and we present ambitious proposals to this end. The long-term solution that we propose would involve an overhaul of current data privacy laws and the creation of a centralized profile repository that would serve a purpose similar to credit reporting bureaus. Through this repository, consumers could view and challenge most information that private businesses and the government hold about them. Dramatic changes are necessary in order to ensure that consumers can have empowering and engaging experiences in today's world of digital data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-352
Number of pages86
JournalIndiana Law Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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