FreeDigital is a 3-year project I started working on in September 2019. It is funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions which provide research fellowships within the European Commission Horizon 2020 framework.

With this project, I want to learn how people make decisions when offered with free digital goods or services that involve collection of their personal data.

Here you will find information on the progress of the project as well as all materials generated when developing it.

Image by Cookie Tsai

What is FreeDigital about?

Free offers are prevalent in nowadays online markets. We can communicate with our friends through social networks, store our files in clouds, navigate the city, manage our finances or even find a life partner using online products and services without paying a single penny. This, however, does not yet mean that we give nothing in exchange. We do provide our private information that might be profitably used by suppliers of free digital content. Since these transactions affect consumers and their personal data, they fall within the scope of two fields of the European Union (EU) law – data protection and consumer law. The overall objectives of these two areas of law are to protect the privacy of consumers and to balance their position against more powerful transaction partners, i.e., businesses. The question which interests me most is whether these objectives are indeed achieved with the current design of the rules, given people’s heuristics and biases in decision making about free products. Behavioral research has demonstrated that consumers tend to overestimate the benefits and underestimate non-monetary costs of free digital content in the form of exposure to advertisements. Yet, it is still unknown how free offers influence consumer decisions that are relevant from a legal perspective, i.e., decisions that involve consumer rights and privacy. In FreeDigital, I will address this knowledge gap. Specifically, I will employ experimental methods to answer the following research questions:

Research question 1: How does offering digital content at a zero price but in exchange for personal data influence consumers’ decisions about:

  1. use of digital content,
  2. sharing of personal data,
  3. use of contractual and data protection rights, e.g., request to repair the defective content or to delete personal data.

Research question 2: Will these decisions change if consumers are provided with information that:

  1. consumer personal data are supplied as counter-performance for free digital content?
  2. consumer personal data are valuable?