Perception of Privacy – Different cultures and different approaches

Privacy is an important good for many people all across the planet. But there might be differences is the perception of privacy between different players. Some of those differences might be due to different cultures that people belong to. This would have several implications. First a shock in the status-quo of privacy, even though of the same nature, might have different results in different cultures. Second understanding these differences and their implications might allow for some optimization in guaranteeing a sufficient privacy level for citizens. I try to provide an entry point to such considerations by collecting several studies about different measures of privacy and how people in different cultures might react to them.

Talking about privacy isn’t not particularly simple. There are a lot of definitions and instruments identified by the literature, actually too many to list them all here. Similar things apply to the explanation of behavioral differences across cultures. Hofstede (2001) for example offers differences in five dimensions. Power distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity and Long vs. short term orientation. Regarding the issue of information privacy on a forum such as the internet following things should be expected. While individualistic countries usually have a stronger way of thinking in categories like success and economic gains they should be more likely to disclose data, for example on a social networking site (SNS) like Facebook, to show their progress. On the other hand this way of thinking leads to a higher appreciation of the individual rights to keep ones privacy which should lead to more precaution when disclosing data (Thomson et. al. 2015). Bellman et. al. (2004) predict that citizens of a country like Greece, that shows a high preference for uncertainty avoidance would have more concerns about transaction security while in a very individualistic country like the U.S. concerns would tackle the issue of improper database access. Another approach takes the relational mobility into account. This refers to a societies capabilities to adapt to social surroundings. Low relational environments are characterized by a relative lack of opportunities to interact with new people. This keeps relationships both long lasting and also characterized by strong obligatory ties. High relational surroundings make it easier to meet new people and form relationships based on individual preferences. Authors argue that these opportunities to form beneficial relationships outside of current commitments can build up something such as general trust which then again helps to approach new relationships in a mature manner. Thomson et. al. (2015) show that Japanese SNS users are more concerned about their privacy than U.S. citizens. This is in line with North American and Northern European Countries mostly being associated with high relational mobility while East Asian countries mostly fall on the low relational side. Reed et. al. (2016) find that across different countries gender egalitarianism is negatively associated with privacy aware behavior while assertiveness has a positive association. Kaya and Weber (2003) find that American students express a higher preference for privacy regarding their University dorm rooms than Turkish students. Consequently Turkish students were found to perceive their University dorm rooms as less crowded than American students even though the U.S. resident halls were bigger.

Before concluding that cultural differences have enormous influence on privacy behavior some things have to be kept in mind. Several studies find that privacy concerns diminish when people get used to situations of little privacy or privacy uncertainty. Hoffman et. al. (1999), Harris et. al. (2003) and Bellman et. al. (2004) confirm this for Internet usage while Kaya and Weber (2003) explain their findings regarding dorm rooms by Turkey having more of a “contact culture” than the individualistic United States which in consequence also means that Turkish students had more experience living in socially dense environments. Other studies suggest a correlation between privacy concerns and the privacy regulatory framework of a country (Bellman et. al. 2004). They conclude that this implies that a countries regulatory framework already captures the differences in cultural values that there might be. These different theories and findings make an actual optimization process regarding privacy perceptions across cultures rather difficult and it certainly would need further investigation as well as some embedment in economic theory to tackle that task..



Bellman, Steven, Eric J. Johnson , Stephen J. Kobrin and Gerald L. Lohse (2004), International Differences in Information Privacy Concerns: A Global Survey of Consumers, The Information Society, 20:5, pp. 313-324

Harris, Michael M., Greet Van Hoye and Filip Lievens (2003), Privacy and Attitudes Towards Internet-Based Selection Systems: A Cross-Cultural Comparison, International Journal of Selection and Assessment Vol. 11 Numbers 2/3 June/September, pp. 230-236

Hoffman, Donna L, Thomas P. Novak, Marcos A. Peralta (1999), Information Privacy in the Marketspace: Implications for the Commercial Uses of Anonymity on the Web, The Information Society, 15:2, pp. 129-139

Hofstede, Geert (2001), Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions and Organizations Across Nations, Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. xix-xx

Kaya, Naz and Margaret J. Weber (2003), Cross-cultural differences in the perception of crowding and privacy regulation: American and Turkish students, Journal of Environmental Psychology 23, pp. 301–309

Reed, Philip J., Emma S. Spiro and Carter T. Butts (2016), Thumbs up for privacy?: Differences in online self-disclosure behavior across national cultures, Social Science Research 59, pp. 155-170

Thomson, Robert, Masaki Yuki and Naoya Ito (2015), A socio-ecological approach to national differences in online privacy concern: The role of relational mobility and trust, Computers in Human Behavior 51, pp. 285–292

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