Exploring Teenagers’ Folk Theories and Coping Strategies Regarding Commercial Data Collection and Personalized Advertising

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Exploring Teenagers’ Folk Theories and Coping Strategies Regarding Commercial Data Collection and Personalized Advertising


  • Sanne Holvoet Department of Communication Sciences, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Steffi De Jans Department of Communication Sciences, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Ralf De Wolf Department of Communication Sciences, Ghent University, Belgium / imec-mict-UGent, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Liselot Hudders Department of Communication Sciences, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Laura Herrewijn Department of Management and Communication, AP University of Applied Sciences and Arts Antwerp, Belgium


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Abstract:  New data collection methods and processing capabilities facilitate online personalization of advertisements but also challenge youth’s understanding of how these methods work. Teenagers are often unaware of the commercial use of their personal information and are susceptible to the persuasive effects of personalized advertising. This raises questions about their ability to engage in privacy-protecting behaviors. This article examines teenagers’ coping responses to commercial data collection and subsequent personalized advertising, considering their limited knowledge. Ten focus groups with 35 teenagers aged 12–14 were conducted. The findings show that teenagers hold certain folk theories (i.e., incomplete and/or inaccurate representations of reality) about how and why their personal information is being collected for commercial purposes (e.g., commercial data collection is unavoidable or all principles of privacy statements are the same). Their coping responses regarding commercial data collection (e.g., limiting information disclosure or refusing to accept privacy policies) and personalized advertising (e.g., trying to change settings or avoiding interaction) are often based on these folk theories and embedded in their everyday practices. Despite teenagers’ efforts, we argue that their responses might not always be effective. Implications for educators, advertisers, and policymakers are discussed.

Keywords:  commercial data collection; folk theories; personalized advertising; privacy management; teenagers

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v10i1.4704


© Sanne Holvoet, Steffi De Jans, Ralf De Wolf, Liselot Hudders, Laura Herrewijn. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.