The Paradoxes of Technological Diffusion: Genetic Discrimination and Internet Privacy
55 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2006
New technologies often cause social controversies by creating novel privacy threats. Academics and legal decision-makers seeking to resolve these controversies have traditionally focused on the appropriate measures to protect privacy. Yet, traditional thinking ignored the relationship between privacy pressures and a technology's diffusion process. In this Article, I examine controversies involving privacy and two recent technological innovations - genetic testing and the Internet through the privacy-diffusion prism.
First, I show that privacy-diffusion imbalances underlie important techno-privacy controversies. Specifically, I identify two models. In the first model, diffusion is inhibited despite the absence of an actual privacy threat. This model is based on the case of genetic discrimination, which shows that contrary to common belief, genetic discrimination is rare and apparently on the decline. Yet, fears of privacy violations inhibit the technology's diffusion. In the second model, diffusion accelerates despite mounting privacy threats. The second model is based on controversies involving privacy on the Internet that show that although privacy threats on the Internet are consistently on the rise, the diffusion of Internet technology continues to accelerate.
Second, I identify the technological characteristics that affected the diffusion process of genetic testing and Internet technologies. These characteristics include the preventive, non-triable and centralized nature of genetic testing technology and the critical mass point and decentralized qualities of Internet technology. I suggest that these diffusion characteristics made the Internet and genetic testing susceptible to their respective privacy-diffusion imbalances and could be key to their resolution. Further, I propose that since these diffusion attributes are shared by other technologies, their early identification by decision-makers would improve the social accommodation of privacy threatening technological innovations.
Keywords: Genetics, Internet, Technology, Privacy, Diffusion
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By Tim Wu