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Privacy concerns with COVID-19 tracking apps: a privacy calculus approach

Teresa Fernandes (School of Economics and Management, University of Porto Porto Portugal)
Marta Costa (School of Economics and Management, University of Porto Porto Portugal)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 11 October 2021

Issue publication date: 7 February 2023




The COVID-19 pandemic represents a unique challenge for public health worldwide. In this context, smartphone-based tracking apps play an important role in controlling transmission. However, privacy concerns may compromise the population’s willingness to adopt this mobile health (mHealth) technology. Based on the privacy calculus theory, this study aims to examine what factors drive or hinder adoption and disclosure, considering the moderating role of age and health status.


A cross-sectional survey was conducted in a European country hit by the pandemic that has recently launched a COVID-19 contact-tracing app. Data from 504 potential users was analyzed through partial least squares structural equation modeling.


Results indicate that perceived benefits and privacy concerns impact adoption and disclosure and confirm the existence of a privacy paradox. However, for young and healthy users, only benefits have a significant effect. Moreover, older people value more personal than societal benefits while for respondents with a chronical disease privacy concerns outweigh personal benefits.


The study contributes to consumer privacy research and to the mHealth literature, where privacy issues have been rarely explored, particularly regarding COVID-19 contact-tracing apps. The study re-examines the privacy calculus by incorporating societal benefits and moving from a traditional “self-focus” approach to an “other-focus” perspective. This study further adds to prior research by examining the moderating role of age and health condition, two COVID-19 risk factors. This study thus offers critical insights for governments and health organizations aiming to use these tools to reduce COVID-19 transmission rates.



During this research, CEF.UP has been financed by Portuguese public funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, I.P., in the framework of the project with reference UIDB/04105/2020.


Fernandes, T. and Costa, M. (2023), "Privacy concerns with COVID-19 tracking apps: a privacy calculus approach", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 40 No. 2, pp. 181-192.



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