Just a Theory

By David E. Wheeler

Posts about Consent

The Farce of Consent

Cornell Tech Professor of Information Science Helen Nissenbaum, in an interview for the Harvard Business Review:

The farce of consent as currently deployed is probably doing more harm as it gives the misimpression of meaningful control that we are guiltily ceding because we are too ignorant to do otherwise and are impatient for, or need, the proffered service. There is a strong sense that consent is still fundamental to respecting people’s privacy. In some cases, yes, consent is essential. But what we have today is not really consent.

It still feels pretty clear-cut to me. I chose to check the box.

Think of it this way. If I ask you for your ZIP code, and you agree to give it to me, what have you consented to?

I’ve agreed to let you use my ZIP code for some purpose, maybe marketing.

Maybe. But did you consent to share your ZIP code with me, or did you consent to targeted marketing? I can combine your ZIP code with other information I have about you to infer your name and precise address and phone number. Did you consent to that? Would you? I may be able to build a financial profile of you based on your community. Did you consent to be part of that? I can target political ads at your neighbors based on what you tell me. Did you consent to that?

Well this is some essential reading for data privacy folx. Read the whole thing.

I myself have put too much emphasis on consent when thinking about and working on privacy issues. The truth is we need to think much deeper about the context in which consent is requested, the information we’re sharing, what it will be used for, and — as Nissenbaum describes in this piece — the impacts on individuals, society, and institutions. Adding her book to my reading list.

(Via Schneier on Security)