Reputation Nation: Law in an Era of Ubiquitous Personal Information

Privacy and Security, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing and Internet

Article Snapshot


Lior Strahilevitz


Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 102, October 2008


This paper asks if information policy can reduce discrimination against people due to characteristics like ethnicity.

Policy Relevance

The wider availability of information about people's trustworthiness can help reduce unfair discrimination in some contexts, but not always.

Main Points

  • Technology like wearable computers and website user ratings (like on eBay) will continue to make it increasingly easy to learn about others’ reputations for trustiworthiness.

  • The increasing availability of information will make it possible for people deciding who to trust to avoid basing their decisions on uninformed stereotypes based on factors like race, gender, or age.

  • Animus-based discrimination is when a decision-maker is motivated by personal feelings about the subject, like a hatred of lawyers. Statistical discrimination is when the decision-maker is motivated by the belief that the subject belongs to a group is likely to result in problems, like the view that lawyers are more likely to sue.

  • Statistical discrimination is becoming more common and animus-based discrimination less common.

  • Policymakers could help prevent discrimination in decisions about employment, car insurance, health care, and immigration by supporting data clearing-houses that collect and share information about individuals. But this would not always be appropriate.

  • Sometimes, keeping information private can prevent discrimination. At other times, keeping the same information private can be harmful. Whether one is HIV positive is a good example of this type of complex situation.

  • Very difficult tradeoffs between benefits and harms are often involved in information policy.

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