Technology, Autonomy, and Manipulation

Internet Policy Review 2019, 8(2). DOI: 10.14763/2019.2.1410

22 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2019

See all articles by Daniel Susser

Daniel Susser

Cornell University

Beate Roessler

University of Amsterdam

Helen Nissenbaum

Cornell Tech NYC; Cornell Tech

Date Written: June 30, 2019


Since 2016, when the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal began to emerge, public concern has grown around the threat of “online manipulation”. While these worries are familiar to privacy researchers, this paper aims to make them more salient to policymakers — first, by defining “online manipulation”, thus enabling identification of manipulative practices; and second, by drawing attention to the specific harms online manipulation threatens. We argue that online manipulation is the use of information technology to covertly influence another person’s decision-making, by targeting and exploiting their decision-making vulnerabilities. Engaging in such practices can harm individuals by diminishing their economic interests, but its deeper, more insidious harm is its challenge to individual autonomy. We explore this autonomy harm, emphasising its implications for both individuals and society, and we briefly outline some strategies for combating online manipulation and strengthening autonomy in an increasingly digital world.

Keywords: online manipulation, behavioral advertising, privacy, autonomy

Suggested Citation

Susser, Daniel and Roessler, Beate and Nissenbaum, Helen F., Technology, Autonomy, and Manipulation (June 30, 2019). Internet Policy Review 2019, 8(2). DOI: 10.14763/2019.2.1410, Available at SSRN:

Daniel Susser (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Beate Roessler

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB

Helen F. Nissenbaum

Cornell Tech NYC ( email )

2 W Loop Rd
New York, NY 10044
United States

Cornell Tech ( email )

2 W Loop Rd
New York, NY 10044
United States

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