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Consumer Willingness to Share Personal Digital Information for Health-Related Uses

Key Points

Question What factors are associated with consumers’ willingness to share their digital information for health-related uses?

Findings In this survey study of 3543 US adults, consumer willingness to share digital data was associated with a range of factors, most importantly the source and type of data. Certain data (eg, financial, social media, public cameras) were viewed as more sensitive than electronic health record data, but underlying views on digital health privacy were strongly associated with consumer views on sharing any digital information.

Meaning In this study, many consumers were reluctant to share their digital data for health-related uses, suggesting that new privacy protections may be needed to increase consumer trust.


Importance Consumers routinely generate digital information that reflects on their health.

Objective To evaluate the factors associated with consumers’ willingness to share their digital health information for research, health care, and commercial uses.

Design, Setting, and Participants This national survey with an embedded conjoint experiment recruited US adults from a nationally representative sample, with oversampling of Black and Hispanic panel members. Participants were randomized to 15 scenarios reflecting use cases for consumer digital information from a total of 324 scenarios. Attributes of the conjoint analysis included 3 uses, 3 users, 9 sources of digital information, and 4 relevant health conditions. The survey was conducted from July 10 to 31, 2020.

Main Outcomes and Measures Participants rated each conjoint profile on a 5-point Likert scale (1-5) measuring their willingness to share their personal digital information (with 5 indicating the most willingness to share). Results reflect mean differences in this scale from a multivariable regression model.

Results Among 6284 potential participants, 3543 (56%) responded. A total of 1862 participants (53%) were female, 759 (21%) identified as Black, 834 (24%) identified as Hispanic, and 1274 (36%) were 60 years or older. In comparison with information from electronic health care records, participants were less willing to share information about their finances (coefficient, −0.56; 95% CI, −0.62 to −0.50), places they visit from public cameras (coefficient, −0.28; 95% CI, −0.33 to −0.22), communication on social media (coefficient, −0.20; 95% CI −0.26 to −0.15), and their search history from internet search engines (coefficient, −0.11; 95% CI, −0.17 to −0.06). They were more willing to share information about their steps from applications on their phone (coefficient, 0.22; 95% CI, 0.17-0.28). Among the conjoint attributes, the source of information (importance weight: 59.1%) was more important than the user (17.3%), use (12.3%), and health condition (11.3%). Four clusters of consumers emerged from the sample with divergent privacy views. While the context of use was important, these 4 groups expressed differences in their overall willingness to share, with 337 participants classified as never share; 1116 classified as averse to sharing (mean rating, 1.64; 95% CI, 1.62-1.65); 1616 classified as uncertain about sharing (mean rating, 2.84; 95% CI, 2.81-2.86); and 474 classified as agreeable to sharing (mean rating, 4.18; 95% CI, 4.16-4.21). Respondents who identified as White and non-Hispanic, had higher income, and were politically conservative were more likely to be in a cluster that was less willing to share (ie, never or averse clusters).

Conclusions and Relevance These findings suggest that although consumers’ willingness to share personal digital information for health purposes is associated with the context of use, many have strong underlying privacy views that affect their willingness to share. New protections may be needed to give consumers confidence to be comfortable sharing their personal information.


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