The Fiduciary Duties of User Agents
15 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2021
Date Written: April 15, 2021
User agents are pieces of software that represent the user, a natural person, in their digital interactions. Examples include Web browsers, operating systems, single-sign-on systems, or voice assistants. User agents hold, due to the role they play in the digital ecosystem, a strategic position. They can be arbiters of structural power. The overwhelming majority of the data that is collected about people, particularly that which is collected passively, is collected through user agents, at times with their explicit support or at least by their leave. I propose to lean on this strategic function that user agents hold to develop a regime of fiduciary duties for them that is relatively limited in the number of actors that it affects yet has the means to significantly increase the power of users in their relationships with online platforms. The limited, tractable scope of software user agency as a fiduciary relationship provides effective structural leverage in righting the balance of power between individuals and tech companies.
Keywords: user agent, privacy, fiduciary
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