Protecting One’s Own Privacy in a Big Data Economy

In the Harvard Law Review Forum, Anita Allen reflects on preserving one’s own privacy in a Big Data economy. Big Data is the vast quantities of information amenable to large-scale collection, storage, and analysis that is used by companies and researchers to reveal otherwise unascertained patterns, links, behaviors, and practical knowledge. Individuals invisibly contribute to Big Data whenever they live digital lifestyles or otherwise participate in the digital economy.

In her paper, Allen comments first on whether the notion that individuals have a moral obligation to protect their own information privacy is plausible given current and likely future Big Data practices. Second, she examines whether a conception of an ethical duty to protect one’s own privacy in the Big Data context may be more pragmatically framed as a duty to be a part of collective actions encouraging business and government to adopt more robust privacy protections and data security measures. Allen concludes that Big Data represents a challenge that requires collective and political approaches to self-protection rather than solely individual approaches. As individuals collectively push business and government to address the complex threat posed by Big Data, Allen asserts that we can also look forward to ways Big Data may improve the experience of privacy and private life.