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Attributes Affecting User Decision to Adopt a Virtual Private Network (VPN) App

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Information and Communications Security (ICICS 2020)


A Virtual Private Network (VPN) helps to mitigate security and privacy risks of data transmitting on unsecured network such as public Wi-Fi. However, despite awareness of public Wi-Fi risks becoming increasingly common, the use of VPN when using public Wi-Fi is low. To increase adoption, understanding factors driving user decision to adopt a VPN app is an important first step. This study is the first to achieve this objective using discrete choice experiments (DCEs) to elicit individual preferences of specific attributes of a VPN app. The experiments were run in the United Kingdom (UK) and Japan (JP). We first interviewed participants (15 UK, 17 JP) to identify common attributes of a VPN app which they considered important. The results were used to design and run a DCE in each country. Participants (149 UK, 94 JP) were shown a series of two hypothetical VPN apps, varying in features, and were asked to choose one which they preferred. Customer review rating, followed by price of a VPN app, significantly affected the decision to choose which VPN app to download and install. A change from a rating of 3 to 4–5 stars increased the probability of choosing an app by 33% in the UK and 14% in Japan. Unsurprisingly, price was a deterrent. Recommendations by friends, source of product reviews, and the presence of in-app ads also played a role but to a lesser extent. To actually use a VPN app, participants considered Internet speed, connection stability, battery level on mobile devices, and the presence of in-app ads as key drivers. Participants in the UK and in Japan prioritized these attributes differently, suggesting possible influences from cultural differences.

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  1. 1.

    As of May 2020.

  2. 2.

    Along with Australia, Poland, Canada, Netherlands, and France.

  3. 3.

    Defined as \(\exp {(U)}/(\exp {(U)}+\exp {(U_{b})})\) where U is the utility for the current settings and \(U_{b}\) is the utility for the baseline settings; implies that the probability for the baseline settings is 0.5 [21].

  4. 4.

    Set as a free app ( 0), moderate app review rating, not referred by friends, had \({<}10,000\) download, and had an amateur-looking interface.

  5. 5.

    Set as a free app (¥0), moderate app review rating (based on info from App store), had \({<}1,000\) downloads, had in-app ads, and required \({<}5\) mins installation.

  6. 6.

    Set as 3–4 dropped connections/hr, 10–20% slower in Internet speed (when using VPN), manual VPN initiation, and there was 75–100% battery level left on a user’s mobile device.

  7. 7.

    Set as 3–4 dropped connections/hr, 10–20% slower in Internet speed (when using VPN), has in-app ads, manual VPN initiation, and there was 75–100% battery level on a user’s mobile.


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This work was funded by the ICS-CoE Core Human Resources Development Program and the EU TEAM Erasmus Mundus scholarship. We thank Caroline Wardle, Kuniko Kumano, Takahashi Hideaki, Shane Johnson, and iPLab members for their help, and Lyn Lua and Yvette Vermeer for reviewing the paper.

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Correspondence to Nissy Sombatruang .

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Table 4. Demographic of participants in the interviews
Table 5. Demographic of participants in the DCE
Fig. 3.
figure 3

The main effects’ marginal probability and utility for the uptake decisions

Fig. 4.
figure 4

The main effects’ marginal probability and utility for the decisions to use a VPN app

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Sombatruang, N., Omiya, T., Miyamoto, D., Sasse, M.A., Kadobayashi, Y., Baddeley, M. (2020). Attributes Affecting User Decision to Adopt a Virtual Private Network (VPN) App. In: Meng, W., Gollmann, D., Jensen, C.D., Zhou, J. (eds) Information and Communications Security. ICICS 2020. Lecture Notes in Computer Science(), vol 12282. Springer, Cham.

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