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Vol. 108, Issue 1


Privacy Pretexts

Rory Van Loo, Boston University School of Law and Affiliated Fellow, Yale Law School Information Society Project


27 Dec 2022

Data privacy’s ethos lies in protecting the individual from institutions. Increasingly, however, institutions are deploying privacy arguments in ways that harm individuals. Tech companies like Amazon, Meta (Facebook), and Alphabet (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. The field’s normative relationship with economics and third-party access has become too strained. Although data privacy’s roots are in guarding against access, its future depends on promoting allied access.

To read this Article, please click here: Privacy Pretexts.