Privacy Paradox: A Predictive Processing Approach


  • Mateja Kalan University of Ljubljana



With people’s increasing dependence on digital products and services on one hand, and the increasing complexity of the mechanisms that power them on the other, the need to protect one’s privacy is also becoming increasingly important. While individuals generally express concerns regarding the protection of their digital privacy, their attitudes usually fail to translate into their behaviour – a phenomenon known as the privacy paradox [1]. Although many research efforts have addressed the privacy paradox [2], existing approaches provide limited explorations of the cognitive mechanisms that shape our perception and drive action in the context of digital privacy. Streaming from the advances in Cognitive Sciences, I aspire to shed new insight into the privacy paradox by applying a predictive processing approach. More precisely, I will explore how the inference between sensory input and prior knowledge within the generative hierarchical model of cognition manifests through privacy attitudes and behaviours [3]. This aim is supported by the following research questions: (1) How can predictive processing theory inform the privacy paradox?; (2) What is the relationship between prior knowledge about digital privacy and attitudes towards digital privacy? and lastly, (3) What is the relationship between sensory cues about digital privacy and digital privacy behaviour?


The first research question will be addressed through a theory-based development of a predictive account of the privacy paradox. The empirical part, aiming to assess the validity of the theoretical account, will likely consist of a survey and a web-based experiment. The survey will investigate how prior knowledge, experiences and beliefs connect to privacy attitudes, while in the experiment, an individual’s decision to consent to or decline the collection and processing of personal data will be observed in relation to either being or not being exposed to sensory cues about digital privacy prior to making the decision.

Expected Results and Implications

Due to the novelty of the research approach and lack of consistency in results streaming from previous research [2], the results are difficult to predict. Nonetheless, insights gained from the thesis aim to not only inform the phenomena and approach in question but also contribute practical insights for the development of digital privacy protection policies, aimed at empowering individuals within the digital landscape.


[1] A. Acquisti, L. Brandimarte, and G. Loewenstein, ‘Privacy and human behavior in the age of information’, Science, vol. 347, no. 6221, pp. 509–514, Jan. 2015.

[2] S. Kokolakis, ‘Privacy attitudes and privacy behaviour: A review of current research on the privacy paradox phenomenon’, Computers & Security, vol. 64, pp. 122–134, Jan. 2017.

[3] A. Clark, ‘Whatever next? Predictive brains, situated agents, and the future of cognitive science’, Behav Brain Sci, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 181–204, Jun. 2013.