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Consumer vulnerability: understanding transparency and control in the online environment

Waseem, Donia, Chen, Shijiao (Joseph), Xia, Zhenhua (Raymond), Rana, Nripendra P., Potdar, Balkrushna, Tran, Khai Trieu (2024) Consumer vulnerability: understanding transparency and control in the online environment. Internet Research, . ISSN 1066-2243. (doi:10.1108/INTR-01-2023-0056) (KAR id:105076)


Purpose – In the online environment, consumers increasingly feel vulnerable due to firms’ expanding capabilities of collecting and using their data in an unsanctioned manner. Drawing from gossip theory, this research focuses on two key suppressors of consumer vulnerability: transparency and control. Previous studies conceptualize transparency and control from rationalistic approaches that overlook individual experiences and present a unidimensional conceptualization. This research aims to understand how individuals interpret transparency and control concerning privacy vulnerability in the online environment. Additionally, it explores strategic approaches to communicating the value of transparency and control.

Design/methodology/approach – An interpretivism paradigm and phenomenology were adopted in the research design. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with 41 participants, including consumers and experts, and analyzed through thematic analysis.

Findings – The findings identify key conceptual dimensions of transparency and control by adapting justice theory. They also reveal that firms can communicate assurance, functional, technical, and social values of transparency and control to address consumer vulnerability.

Originality – This research makes the following contributions to the data privacy literature. The findings exhibit multidimensional and comprehensive conceptualizations of transparency and control, including user, firm, and information perspectives. Additionally, the conceptual framework combines empirical insights from both experiencers and observers to offer an understanding of how transparency and control serve as justice mechanisms to effectively tackle the issue of unsanctioned transmission of personal information and subsequently address vulnerability. Lastly, the findings provide strategic approaches to communicating the value of transparency and control.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1108/INTR-01-2023-0056
Additional information: This author accepted manuscript is deposited under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC) licence. This means that anyone may distribute, adapt, and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes, subject to full attribution. If you wish to use this manuscript for commercial purposes, please contact
Uncontrolled keywords: data privacy; consumer vulnerability; transparency; control; qualitative research
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Kent Business School - Division > Department of Marketing, Entrepreneurship and International Business
Depositing User: Donia Waseem
Date Deposited: 22 Feb 2024 11:56 UTC
Last Modified: 26 Feb 2024 11:18 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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