Privacy and Ethics

In today’s digitally-networked world, we are constantly leaking data. Every web search is cataloged. Every social media interaction is recorded. Every cell phone emits its GPS location.  Companies are collecting this data at their leisure, using their terms of service and privacy policies to quietly acquire consumers’ passive consent. Consumers are in the dark about what information is collected about them, how it is used, and what it is worth. How much money do these companies make by selling consumers’ personal data? As Michael Fertik, CEO of, says,

The basic business model of the Internet today is that we’re going to take your data without your knowledge and permission and give it to people that you can’t identify for purposes you’ll never know.

Can consumers revoke their consent and take back control of their own data by selling it directly to companies themselves?

There are many issues involved in undertaking such an approach. Can a direct personal data market (DPDM) actually be implemented? What are the implications of consumers selling personal data directly to data collectors? Do these implications warrant government protection or regulation?

Personally Identifiable Information
Personally Identifiable Information

There is a school of thought that says that individuals should own their personal data, or in other words, have a property interest in their data. But how to characterize this interest and protect it in the privacy markets, as well as in the courts, is up to much debate.

Some scholars have subscribed to the idea that information is not private property. In her paper "Privacy As Intellectual Property?", Samuelson argues that the creation of a property rights market would immediately create “significant friction” with data markets that presently operate without such limitations. In "The New Intrusion," Bambauer states that if the government incorporated a property model into law, it would immediately face constitutional challenges to its legality. Litman, in "Information Privacy/Information Property," concurs with Bambauer and Samuelson, claiming that the creation of any property-based market would fail because of the inalienable nature of information and data.

Last updated:

October 7, 2016