Protecting One’s Own Privacy in a Big Data Economy

Anita L. Allen in the Harvard Law Review Forum: “Big Data is the vast quantities of information amenable to large-scale collection, storage, and analysis. Using such data, companies and researchers can deploy complex algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies to reveal otherwise unascertained patterns, links, behaviors, trends, identities, and practical knowledge. The information that comprises Big Data arises from government and business practices, consumer transactions, and the digital applications sometimes referred to as the “Internet of Things.” Individuals invisibly contribute to Big Data whenever they live digital lifestyles or otherwise participate in the digital economy, such as when they shop with a credit card, get treated at a hospital, apply for a job online, research a topic on Google, or post on Facebook.

Privacy advocates and civil libertarians say Big Data amounts to digital surveillance that potentially results in unwanted personal disclosures, identity theft, and discrimination in contexts such as employment, housing, and financial services. These advocates and activists say typical consumers and internet users do not understand the extent to which their activities generate data that is being collected, analyzed, and put to use for varied governmental and business purposes.

I have argued elsewhere that individuals have a moral obligation to respect not only other people’s privacy but also their own. Here, I wish to comment first on whether the notion that individuals have a moral obligation to protect their own information privacy is rendered utterly implausible by current and likely future Big Data practices; and on whether a conception of an ethical duty to self-help in the Big Data context may be more pragmatically framed as a duty to be part of collective actions encouraging business and government to adopt more robust privacy protections and data security measures….(More)”