A Privacy Calculus Model for Contact Tracing Apps: Analyzing the Use Behavior of the German Corona-Warn-App with a Longitudinal User Study

Harborth, D. and Pape, S.

In Computers & Security: 103338, 2023.


The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is a pressing societal issue today. The German government promotes a contract tracing app named Corona-Warn-App (CWA), aiming to change citizens' health behaviors during the pandemic by raising awareness about potential infections and enable infection chain tracking. Technical implementations, citizens' perceptions, and public debates around apps differ between countries, e. g., in Germany there has been a huge discussion on potential privacy issues of the app. Thus, we analyze effects of privacy concerns regarding the CWA, perceived CWA benefits, and trust in the German healthcare system to answer why citizens use the CWA. In our initial conference publication at ICT Systems Security and Privacy Protection - 37th IFIP TC 11 International Conference, SEC 2022, we used a sample with 1,752 actual users and non-users of the CWA and and support for the privacy calculus theory, i. e., individuals weigh privacy concerns and benefits in their use decision. Thus, citizens privacy perceptions about health technologies (e. g., shaped by public debates) are crucial as they can hinder adoption and negatively affect future fights against pandemics. In this special issue, we adapt our previous work by conducting a second survey 10 months after our initial study with the same pool of participants (830 participants from the first study participated in the second survey). The goal of this longitudinal study is to assess changes in the perceptions of users and non-users over time and to evaluate the influence of the significantly lower hospitalization and death rates on the use behavior which we could observe during the second survey. Our results show that the privacy calculus is relatively stable over time. The only relationship which significantly changes over time is the effect of privacy concerns on the use behavior which significantly decreases over time, i. e., privacy concerns have a lower negative effect one the CWA use indicating that it did not play such an important role in the use decision at a later point in time in the pandemic. We contribute to the literature by introducing one of the rare longitudinal analyses in the literature focusing on the privacy calculus and changes over time in the relevant constructs as well as the relationships between the calculus constructs and target variables (in our case use behavior of a contact tracing app). We can see that the explanatory power of the privacy calculus model is relatively stable over time even if strong externalities might affect individual perceptions related to the model.



  author    = {Harborth, David and Pape, Sebastian},
  title     = {A Privacy Calculus Model for Contact Tracing Apps: Analyzing the Use Behavior of the German Corona-Warn-App with a Longitudinal User Study},
  journal   = {Computers \& Security},
  year      = {2023},
  pages     = {103338},
  month     = {06},
  doi       = {10.1016/j.cose.2023.103338},
  keywords  = {privacy, cwa, CS4E},
  publisher = {Elsevier},
  url       = {https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167404823002481},