Compared to younger adults, older adults were less willing to install the tracking mobile application and shared less personal information.
Compared to younger adults, older adults differ in their perceptions of digital privacy and are more proactive in protecting their personal data (Zeissig et al., 2017). However, potential covariates, including age-related differences in motivational priorities and perceived cognitive and physical resources, remain poorly understood. The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented trade-offs between individual privacy and public health concerns, highlighting the need to understand age differences in the willingness to share personal data in order to manage individual risk and benefit the greater community. In response, the present study examined age differences in digital privacy preferences in the context of installing and sharing personal information through a COVID-19 tracking application. We conducted secondary analyses of previously unpublished data gathered from a U.S. adult lifespan sample in the summer of 2020 (N = 500, aged 18–89 years, Mage = 49.90, SDage = 19.34; see Nolte et al., 2022). Participants were told to imagine an application providing daily updates on the general COVID-19 risk in their communities and their personal likelihood of virus exposure. They were then asked how willing they would be to install the application, and if they would share nine pieces of personal information (e.g., age, gender, race/ethnicity, location data) through the app. As potential covariates, we considered demographics, affect, motivational priorities, personality, self-rated mental/physical health, subjective cognition, as well as COVID-19 exposure and vulnerability. Advanced age was associated with lower willingness to install the application and lower information-sharing intentions. Age-related differences in installation intentions remained unchanged after controlling for covariates. However, differences in information-sharing intentions were no longer significant after controlling for age-related decrements in the tendency to prioritize growth-oriented goals. We discuss implications for addressing age-based variations in the uptake of digital tracking and risk-management tools in the context of public health crises.