New article on public health apps and conspiracy theories published in Journal of Product Innovation Management

Due to the increasing diffusion of smartphones and smart devices, public health applications (apps) have become promising instruments of public health management. Questions about how those apps are received and accepted are instrumental to policymakers. At the same time, public health apps are often surrounded by controversial debates that fuel conspiracy theories like the assumption that tracing technologies were developed by a powerful secret group that seeks to harm the larger society. The newly released research explores the impact of conspiracy beliefs on the acceptance of public health apps and provides insights into how those beliefs are shaped by word of mouth by peers and experts. Among others, the results challenge the assumption that positive expert opinions may help reduce negative perceptions of public health apps. The results have important implications for decision-makers in the management of health applications.

We want to thank the accepting editors Charles Henry Noble and Martin Spann as well as the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments, which were instrumental in the further development of this paper.

Abstract: Due to rapid technological advances and the increasing diffusion of smart devices, public health applications (apps) have become an integral aspect of public health management. Yet, as governments introduce innovative public health apps (e.g., contact tracing apps, data donation apps, ehealth apps), they have to confront controversial debates that fuel conspiracy theories and face the fact that app adoption rates are often disappointing. This study explores how conspiracy theories affect the adoption of innovative public health apps as well as how policymakers can fight harmful conspiracy beliefs. Acknowledging the importance of word of mouth (WOM) in the context of conspiracy beliefs, the study focuses on the interplay between WOM and conspiracy beliefs and their effects on app adoption. Based on theories of social influence and conspiracy beliefs, substantiated by data derived from a multi-wave field study and confirmed by a controlled experiment, the results show that (1) changes in WOM concerning public health apps change conspiracy beliefs, (2) the effects of WOM on changes in conspiracy beliefs depend on both the sender (peer vs. expert) and the receiver’s initial conspiracy beliefs, and (3) increases in conspiracy beliefs reduce public health app adoption and trigger more negative WOM regarding such apps. These results should inform health agencies about how to market innovative public health apps. For consumers with initially low levels of conspiracy beliefs, the distribution of expert WOM supporting the efficacy of public health apps effectively prevents the development of conspiracy beliefs and increases app adoption. However, expert WOM is ineffective in reducing conspiracy beliefs among firm conspiracy believers. These consumers should instead be targeted by campaigns distributing peer WOM that highlights an app’s benefits and contradicts conspiracy theories.

Further information

Reference: Krämer, T., Weiger, W. W., Trang, S., and Trenz, M. 2022. “Deflected by the Tin Foil Hat? Word-of-Mouth, Conspiracy Beliefs, and the Adoption of Innovative Public Health Apps” Journal of Product Innovation Management, (Online First). (
Link: (Open Access)
About the journal: Journal of Product Innovation is a leading international journal in the research field of Innovation Management. The journal is rated A by the German Academic Association for Business Research (VHB) in JOURQUAL3 (Impact factor 9.885 (2021)).