Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2022

Language

en-US

Abstract

Data privacy’s ethos lies in protecting the individual from institutions. Increasingly, however, institutions are deploying privacy arguments in ways that harm individuals. Platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and Google wall off information from competitors in the name of privacy. Financial institutions under investigation justify withholding files from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by saying they must protect sensitive customer data. In these and other ways, the private sector is exploiting privacy to avoid competition and accountability. This Article highlights the breadth of privacy pretexts and uncovers their moral structure. Like most pretexts, there is an element of truth to the claims. But left unchallenged, they will pave a path contrary to privacy’s ethos by blocking individuals’ data allies—the digital helpers, competitors, and regulators who need access to personal data to advance people’s interests. Addressing this move requires recognizing and overcoming deep tensions in the field of privacy. Although data privacy’s roots are in guarding against access, its future depends on promoting allied access.

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Forthcoming publication in Cornell Law Review

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