Big Data and the 'New' Privacy Tradeoff

7 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2013 Last revised: 13 Aug 2013

See all articles by Robert H. Sloan

Robert H. Sloan

University of Illinois at Chicago

Richard Warner

Chicago-Kent College of Law

Date Written: August 5, 2013


Predictions of transformative change surround Big Data. It is routine to read, for example, that "with the coming of Big Data, we are going to be operating very much out of our old, familiar ballpark." But, as both Niels Bohr and Yogi Berra are reputed to have observed, "Prediction is difficult, especially about the future." And, they might have added, especially regarding the effects of major technological change. In the Railroad Mania of nineteenth century England, for example, some made the typical prediction that a new communication network meant the end of an old one: namely, that that face-to-face communication over the emerging railroad network would entail a drastic drop in postal mail. In fact, mail volume increased. Given the difficulty of forecasting transformative change, we opt for a "prediction" about the present: Big Data already presents a "new" and important privacy challenge. As the scare quotes indicate, the challenge is not truly new. What Big Data does is compel confrontation with a difficult trade-off problem that has been glossed over or even ignored up to now. It does so because both the potential benefits and risks from Big Data analysis are so much larger than anything we have seen before.

We confine our inquiry to the private sector. Governmental concerns are critically important, but they require separate treatment.

Keywords: Big Data, data collection, privacy, technology, information processing, tradeoffs, Notice and Choice

JEL Classification: K19, K20, K39

Suggested Citation

Sloan, Robert H. and Warner, Richard, Big Data and the 'New' Privacy Tradeoff (August 5, 2013). Chicago-Kent College of Law Research Paper No. 2013-33, Available at SSRN: or

Robert H. Sloan (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Chicago ( email )

1200 W Harrison St
Chicago, IL 60607
United States

Richard Warner

Chicago-Kent College of Law ( email )

565 West Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661
United States

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