A Framework for Benefit-Cost Analysis in Digital Privacy Debates

Adam D. Thierer

George Mason University - Mercatus Center

August 14, 2013

George Mason Law Review, Vol. 20, No. 4, 2013

This article argues that benefit-cost analysis ("BCA") is extremely challenging in online child safety and digital privacy debates, yet it remains essential that analysts and policymakers attempt to conduct such reviews. While we will never be able to perfectly determine either the benefits or costs of online safety or privacy controls, the very act of conducting a regulatory impact analysis ("RIA") will help us to better understand the trade-offs associated with various regulatory proposals.

However, precisely because those benefits and costs remain so remarkably subjective and contentious, the paper argues that we should look to employ less-restrictive solutions -- education and awareness efforts, empowerment tools, alternative enforcement mechanisms, etc. -- before resorting to potentially costly and cumbersome legal and regulatory regimes that could disrupt the digital economy and the efficient provision of services that consumers desire. This model has worked fairly effectively in the online safety context and can be applied to digital privacy concerns as well.

The article is organized as follows. Part I examines the use of BCA by federal agencies to assess the utility of government regulations. Part II considers how BCA can be applied to online privacy regulation and the challenges federal officials face when determining the potential benefits of regulation. Part III then elaborates on the cost considerations and other trade-offs that regulators face when evaluating the impact of privacy-related regulations. Part IV discusses alternative measures that can be taken by government regulators when attempting to address online safety and privacy concerns. This article concludes that policymakers must consider BCA when proposing new rules but also recognize the utility of alternative remedies such as education and awareness campaigns, to address consumer concerns about online safety and privacy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 51

Keywords: Regulation, data, analysis, BCA, benefit, cost, review, Privacy, law, rights, reputation, free, speech, Europe, data, protection, default, regulation, FTC, online, digital, tech, technology, aggregation, education, empowerment, enforcement, information, control, Commerce, do not track, deceptive

JEL Classification: M3, L86, L88, L5, L2, K13

Open PDF in Browser Download This Paper

Date posted: August 16, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Thierer, Adam D., A Framework for Benefit-Cost Analysis in Digital Privacy Debates (August 14, 2013). George Mason Law Review, Vol. 20, No. 4, 2013. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2309995

Contact Information

Adam D. Thierer (Contact Author)
George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )
3351 Fairfax Drive
4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201-4433
United States
Feedback to SSRN

Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 2,136
Downloads: 137
Download Rank: 147,264
People who downloaded this paper also downloaded:
1. The Pursuit of Privacy in a World Where Information Control is Failing
By Adam Thierer

© 2016 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollobot1 in 0.219 seconds