Enhancing the Privacy Discourse: Consumer Information Gathering as Surveillance
Posted: 18 May 2002
Date Written: February 2002
With the rapid expansion of commerce into cyberspace, the issues of consumer information privacy are gaining new prominence. More consumer information is collected than ever before, much of it ending up in large private databases used for marketing. This Article examines the history of consumer information gathering and frames this practice and its effects in terms of surveillance. While most legal theorists have relied on the discourse of privacy to analyze this practice, this Article argues that Foucauldian idea of surveillance is a better fit since it embraces previously overlooked psychological and social consequences of this practice. The effects of surveillance are varied and diffuse, ranging from a sense of vulnerability to social alienation to troubling unintended consequences. The Article concludes by placing the negative effects of consumer information gathering in the context of its economic benefits and suggests several approaches for limiting the former while maintaining the latter.
Keywords: privacy, cyberspace, internet, society, foucault, consumer, surveillance, power
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