Would you sacrifice your privacy to protect public health? Prosocial responsibility in a pandemic paves the way for digital surveillance

Michail D. Kokkoris*, Bernadette Kamleitner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

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
Article number578618
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2020

Keywords

  • civil rights
  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • digital surveillance
  • freedom
  • location tracking
  • privacy
  • prosocial behavior
  • responsibility

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