Because It Is Wrong: The Immorality and Illegality of the Online Service Contracts of Google and Facebook

132 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2020

See all articles by Preston Torbert

Preston Torbert

University of Chicago Law School; Peking University School of Transnational Law

Date Written: February 12, 2020

Abstract

This essay argues that the behavioral-advertising business model under which an internet platform, such as Google or Facebook, provides free services in exchange for the user’s personal data is immoral and illegal. It is immoral because it relies on addiction, surveillance, and manipulation of the user to deplete the user’s autonomy. The contract between the company and the user is immoral. It can also be plausibly argued that the contract is illegal under California law because it is contrary to good morals, is unconscionable, and is against public policy. As society becomes more aware of these moral and legal defects, courts in the future should be more willing to find these contracts illegal and thus void. In such case, the user’s consent to the contract would be nullified and the company would have no legal right to gather and monetize the personal data of the user. The companies should then be forced to convert to a subscription model with a fiduciary duty to users to restrict the gathering and monetizing of personal data. This essay employs perspectives not only from morality and law, but also from philosophy, history, political theory, and neuroscience. Part One covers morality, Part Two legality.

Keywords: immorality, illegality, Google, Facebook, internet, contract, addiction, surveillance, manipulation, autonomy, inalienability,democracy, peonage, good morals, unconscionable, public policy

Suggested Citation

Torbert, Preston, Because It Is Wrong: The Immorality and Illegality of the Online Service Contracts of Google and Facebook (February 12, 2020). Peking University School of Transnational Law Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3537227 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3537227

Preston Torbert (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Peking University School of Transnational Law ( email )

Peking Univ. Shenzhen Campus
University Town, Xili, Nanshan District
Shenzhen, 518055
China

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