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Journal of Information, Communication & Ethics in Society ; 20(4):495-515, 2022.
Article in English | ProQuest Central | ID: covidwho-2063202


Purpose>The internet has provided a gamut of benefits to consumers. The digital world, however, also provides space for various illegal or unethical consumer activities. Consumers may not always be fully aware of the unethical or illegal nature of some of the online activities that they engage in. This study aims to examine the questionable side of online consumer behaviour in an emerging market where internet penetration and smart phone accessibility is rapidly expanding. Using a third-person technique, this study attempts to empirically capture the perceptions of Indian adults regarding the prevalence of various questionable online activities such as unauthorized downloading of digital content, spreading fake news/misinformation and fraudulent returns and to understand the extent to which these respondents believe that such actions are acceptable or illegal and unethical.Design/methodology/approach>An online questionnaire was used to collect primary data from 212 consumers. Non-probability convenience and snowball sampling was used for the purpose.Findings>Unauthorized watching or downloading of online content is reported to be the most prevalent among the various types of questionable behaviours examined. However, it is behaviours such as fraudulent returns and spreading misinformation through online channels which are considered to be the most unethical or illegal. Certain behaviours which may be deemed to be unethical and illegal nevertheless are seen as acceptable. Significant differences between demographics in the case of several of the unethical activities are reported.Research limitations/implications>This study examines the grey and dark side of online behaviours among consumers in an emerging market and points to the need for action on several fronts to increase consumer awareness and sensitivity about the unethical or illegal nature of some of their online activities and the implications for multiple stakeholders. Based on the findings of this study, recommendations directed at consumers, marketers and policymakers are discussed.Originality/value>Although the benefits of online communication channels have been extensively studied, their ability to facilitate certain unethical and even illegal activities is an under-researched area. The inclination to engage in these types of questionable behaviours may have been exacerbated by the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This study highlights the importance of research on various grey consumer activities in the digital space and paves the way for further investigations by identifying online actions which are considered as most prevalent and/or unethical and illegal.