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Let’s play a game of would you rather. Would you rather buy a pack of batteries for $5 from a website that had clear privacy policies, or the same pack of batteries for $4.41 from a website where the privacy policies are unclear?

People love a good deal — the sudden rise of daily group coupon sites can tell you that. But there’s a limit to what we’ll do to save a buck, and that limit involves knowing what retailers do with the information from our purchases.

Online shoppers are willing to pay more for items on sites with clear privacy protection policies, according to researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, which rejects the idea that deal seekers are motivated by saving money alone.

Researchers gave three groups of adults $45 to shop for batteries and a vibrating sex toy online, which retailed for $15 on average, including shipping. One group used a search engine that indicated degrees of privacy online retailers provided, one group used the same search engine but were told the degrees indicated “handicap accessibility,” and a third group used a search engine that didn’t have any indicators. The participants were asked to use their own credit cards, and were told they could keep the change if their purchases were under $45, in addition to a $10 reward for participating.

The results: Participants were willing to pay 59 cents more for batteries from retailers that offered better privacy protection. Participants in the group that used the search engine indicating privacy conditions also made significantly more purchases from high privacy sites than those who weren’t aware of privacy conditions.

The idea that we’ll pay more for privacy is fascinating because I’m pretty sure that most of us aren’t aware of and don’t seek out the privacy policies for each of the retailers we like to shop for online. Quick, can anyone say at the top of your head what Amazon.com does with the information from your purchases? How often do you actually sit and take the time to read privacy policy flashed to you on the screen when you buy things online. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that you just click “I accept” and move on with whatever you’re buying.

So although we’re more willing to spend money at places we’re sure has clear privacy policies, none of that matters unless you take the time to actually read the whole darn thing.

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Image by Josh Hallet

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