Consumer Privacy and the Future of Society

in The Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Privacy, Eds. Evan Selinger, Jules Polonetsky and Omer Tene (2018)

21 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2018

See all articles by Jules Polonetsky

Jules Polonetsky

Future of Privacy Forum

Omer Tene

International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP)

Evan Selinger

Rochester Institute of Technology - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: April 8, 2018


In the course of a single day, hundreds of companies collect massive amounts of information from individuals. Sometimes they obtain meaningful consent. Often, they use less than transparent means. By surfing the web, using a cell phone and apps, entering a store that provides Wi-Fi, driving a car, passing cameras on public streets, wearing a fitness device, watching a show on a smart TV or ordering a product from a connected home device, people share a steady stream of information with layers upon layers of hardware devices, software applications, and service providers. Almost every human activity, whether it is attending school or a workplace, seeking healthcare or shopping in a mall, driving on a highway or watching TV in the living room, leaves behind data trails that build up incrementally to create a virtual record of our daily lives. How companies, governments, and experts should use this data is among the most pressing global public policy concerns.

Privacy issues, which are at the heart of many of the debates over data collection, analysis, and distribution, range extensively in both theory and practice. In some cases, conversations about privacy policy focus on marketing issues and the minutiae of a website’s privacy notices or an app’s settings. In other cases, the battle cry for privacy extends to diverse endeavors, such as the following: calls to impose accountability on the NSA’s counterterrorism mission; proposals for designing safe smart toys; plans for enabling individuals to scrub or modify digital records of their pasts; pleas to require database holders to inject noise into researchers’ queries to protect against leaks that disclose an individuals’ identity; plans to use crypto currencies or to prevent criminals and terrorists from abusing encryption tools; proposals for advancing medical research and improving public health without sacrificing patients’ control over their data; and ideas for how scientists can make their data more publicly available to facilitate replication of studies without, at the same time, inadvertently subjecting entire populations to prejudicial treatment, including discrimination.

At a time when fake news influences political elections, new and contentious forms of machine to-machine communications are emerging, algorithmic decision-making is calling more of the shots in civic, corporate, and private affairs, and ruinous data breaches and ransomware attacks endanger everything from financial stability to patient care in hospitals, “privacy” has become a potent shorthand. Privacy is a boundary, a limiting principle, and a litmus test for identifying and adjudicating the delicate balance between the tremendous benefits and dizzying assortment of risks that insight-filled data offers.

Consequently, far from what a first glance at the title of this volume might lead readers to expect, the Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Privacy critically explores core issues that will determine how the future is shaped. To do justice to the magnitude and complexity of these topics, we have asked contributors to address as many parts and perspectives of the consumer privacy debate as possible. How we, all of us, collectively grapple with these issues will determine the fate of technology and course of humanity.

Keywords: privacy, data protection, algorithmic decision making, algorithms, artificial intelligence, ethics

JEL Classification: K10, K23

Suggested Citation

Polonetsky, Jules and Tene, Omer and Selinger, Evan, Consumer Privacy and the Future of Society (April 8, 2018). in The Cambridge Handbook of Consumer Privacy, Eds. Evan Selinger, Jules Polonetsky and Omer Tene (2018), Available at SSRN:

Jules Polonetsky

Future of Privacy Forum ( email )

United States

Omer Tene (Contact Author)

International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) ( email )

Pease International Tradeport
75 Rochester Ave., Suite 4
Portsmouth, NH 03801
United States

Evan Selinger

Rochester Institute of Technology - Department of Philosophy ( email )

92 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623-5670
United States
(585) 475-2531 (Phone)

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