WikiLeaks and Digital Disclosure: Beclouded Muckraking, Profit-Taking and Self-Promoting

36 Pages Posted: 7 May 2019 Last revised: 26 Jun 2019

See all articles by Michael N. Widener

Michael N. Widener

Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Date Written: April 12, 2019


However the reader approaches the study of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, there are numerous applied ethical issues implicated by their lives. The paper asks, among other questions, whether a new norm exists defining personal information and data as a “public good.” Under this view, anyone using the Internet seemingly has relinquished any direct (or exclusive) ownership claim to her data (personal information) or images of resemblance. In truth, part of data ownership is about control over our personhood, over the stories conveyed about us, and over what can be known about us. The meaning of the data is something that the person who generates the data can never really be detached from. To that extent, personal data represents intimate aspects of ourselves that we can't be separated from, no matter the motive of those seeking to partition the individual from the narrative.

Loss of control over personal information is especially troubling in the current environment in which enterprises like Google cannot form, or maintain for extended periods, ethics boards charged with directing policy on extracting, bundling and sharing of personal information of users of SaaS and Web platforms. The fact that California in 2018 passed the CCPA or the EU its Data Privacy Regulation is cold comfort given the "personal-data gold rush" underway evidenced in the business of mining, bundling and sale of information. Remaining competitive, it seems, is more consequential than being respectful, or even cognizant, of the individual's ownership of her or his essential personhood.

The essay is a vehicle for reflection for business ethicists about an essential moral issue for our time: the destructive social, as well as personal, impacts of compromised individual privacy in the digital-platform and social media realms.

Keywords: Julian Assange, Wikileaks, personal data privacy, confidential information, digital culture, privacy loss, privacy compromise, personal information disclosure, data breaches, privacy rights, business ethics, personal ethics, government secrets, journalism, data extraction, journalist

JEL Classification: I28, I31, M14, M48, O33, O34, O38

Suggested Citation

Widener, Michael N., WikiLeaks and Digital Disclosure: Beclouded Muckraking, Profit-Taking and Self-Promoting (April 12, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Michael N. Widener (Contact Author)

Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint ( email )

2325 East Camelback Road
Suite 300
Phoenix, AZ 85016
United States

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University ( email )

Prescott, AZ 86301
United States

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