The Myth of Individual Control: Mapping the Limitations of Privacy Self-management
15 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2021 Last revised: 15 Mar 2022
Date Written: July 7, 2021
Despite years of heavy criticism, privacy self-management (i.e., the principle that people individually manage their privacy via notice and choice) remains the standard of privacy protection throughout the Western world. Building on previous research, this article provides an overview and classification of the manifold obstacles that render privacy self-management largely useless in practice. People's privacy choices are typically irrational, involuntary and/or circumventable due to human limitations, corporate tricks, legal loopholes and the complexities of modern data processing. Moreover, the self-management approach ignores the consequences that individual privacy choices have on other people and society at large. Regarding future research, we argue that the focus should not be on whether privacy self-management can be fixed by making it more user-friendly or efficient – it cannot. The concept is based on fundamentally wrong assumptions. To meaningfully address the potentials and dangers of personal data processing in the 21st century, a shift away from relying purely on individual control is inevitable. We discuss potential ways forward, stressing the need for government intervention to regulate the social impact of personal data processing.
Keywords: Personal data, privacy self-management, informed consent, notice-and-choice, GDPR, fair information practices
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