Current Projects

Personal Data in Exchange for Free Services: An experiment on Zero-price Offers and Privacy Decisions

with Caroline Goukens

In this project, we employ online experiments to to investigate how offering digital content at a zero price but in exchange for personal data influence consumers’ decisions about the use of digital content and sharing of personal data.

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 us 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 nonmonetary 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.

Not in my House? A Big Data Approach to the Impact of Non-discrimination Policy on a Home Sharing Platform

with Malka Guillot and Andrew Thompson

Discrimination happens everywhere – also in the sharing economy. Research has revealed that users with African American names are more likely than those with distinctively white names to have their booking requests rejected (Edelman et al. 2017) or their ride cancelled (Ge et al. 2016). Sharing platforms do react to this by issuing non-discrimination policies or by changing platform design in a way that would prevent discrimination. Although such initiatives are very welcome, their effectiveness in reducing discrimination has not yet been established. Therefore, in our project we focus on studying the effects of non-discrimination policies and designs on the behavior of platform users. This is particularly important to study given the increasing role these platforms play in the current markets and the number of people that could potentially be affected by discriminatory practices.