Psychology of personal data donation

Anya Skatova, James Goulding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)
195 Downloads (Pure)


Advances in digital technology have led to large amounts of personal data being recorded and retained by industry, constituting an invaluable asset to private organizations. The implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU, including the UK, fundamentally reshaped how data is handled across every sector. It enables the general public to access data collected about them by organisations, opening up the possibility of this data being used for research that benefits the public themselves; for example, to uncover lifestyle causes of poor health outcomes. A significant barrier for using this commercial data for academic research, however, is the lack of publicly acceptable research frameworks. Data donation—the act of an individual actively consenting to donate their personal data for research—could enable the use of commercial data for the benefit of society. However, it is not clear which motives, if any, would drive people to donate their personal data for this purpose. In this paper we present the results of a large-scale survey (N = 1,300) that studied intentions and reasons to donate personal data. We found that over half of individuals are willing to donate their personal data for research that could benefit the wider general public. We identified three distinct reasons to donate personal data: an opportunity to achieve self-benefit, social duty, and the need to understand the purpose of data donation. We developed a questionnaire to measure those three reasons and provided further evidence on the validity of the scales. Our results demonstrate that these reasons predict people’s intentions to donate personal data over and above generic altruistic motives. We show that a social duty is the strongest predictor of the intention to donate personal data, while understanding the purpose of data donation also positively predicts the intentions to donate personal data. In contrast, self-serving motives show a negative association with intentions to donate personal data. The findings presented here examine people’s reasons for data donation to help inform the ethical use of commercially collected personal data for academic research for public good.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2019

Structured keywords

  • Physical and Mental Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Psychology of personal data donation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this