Recent Papers by TAP Scholars Addressing Consumer Data Privacy

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on September 25, 2018


Tomorrow (September 26, 2018), the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled “Examining Safeguards for Consumer Data Privacy.” The purpose of the hearing is to examine privacy policies of top technology and communications firms; review the current state of consumer data privacy; and, offer members the opportunity to discuss possible approaches to safeguarding privacy more effectively.


Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the committee, states that “consumers deserve clear answers and standards on data privacy protection.” Senator Thune continues: “This hearing will provide leading technology companies and internet service providers an opportunity to explain their approaches to privacy, how they plan to address new requirements from the European Union and California, and what Congress can do to promote clear privacy expectations without hurting innovation.”


Several TAP scholars are highly regarded privacy law experts. Below offers a selection of papers published recently from TAP academics that focus on issues with consumer data privacy. Please note: this list is in no way a comprehensive collection of privacy papers; consider it more a sampling of the work and research that is ongoing by TAP scholars.


Privacy Interests in Public Records: An Empirical Investigation
by Helen Nissenbaum and Kirsten Martin
Harvard Journal of Law and Technology, Vol. 31, No.1, pp. 111-143, 2017

Generally, privacy regulation does not protect the privacy of information derived from public records. However, research shows that people disapprove of the use of data from public records in a wide range of contexts, particularly if the data is derived from voting records. Policymakers should reconsider the level of privacy protection for data derived from public records.


The Aisles Have Eyes: How Retailers Track Your Shopping, Strip Your Privacy, and Define Your Power
by Joseph Turow
Yale University Press: New Haven, Connecticut, 2017

Increasingly, retailers use technologies such as smartphone apps to track and profile shoppers are they shop in retail stores. Retailers profile consumers and treat some differently than others. Most consumers are unaware of retailers’ tracking and profiling. Regulators should require corporations to ask consumers’ permission to use their data. We should consider whether retail profiling is consistent with our values.


Transatlantic Data Privacy Law
by Paul M. Schwartz and Karl-Nikolaus Peifer
The Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 106, No. 1, pp. 115-179, 2017

The European Union (EU) restricts the transfer of information to countries such as the United States, which regulates privacy differently. New EU privacy regulations and the Privacy Shield, a treaty between the EU and the U.S., will help resolve the differences. New privacy rules will increase coordination of privacy rules between the EU and the United States.


The Public Information Fallacy
by Woodrow Hartzog
Boston University Law Review, 2018 (forthcoming)

Generally, “public” information is not given privacy protection. Often, labelling information as “public” is used to justify surveillance and data collection. However, the term “public” is not clearly defined. Because it has important consequences, “public” information should be clearly defined. Different definitions of “public” have important consequences.


The Internet of Heirlooms and Disposable Things
by Woodrow Hartzog and Evan Selinger
North Carolina Journal of Law & Technology, Vol. 17, Issue 4, pp. 581-598, May 2016

Everything from stuffed animals to toilets is now being connected to the Internet of Things (IoT). Connecting everyday objects to the Internet could be harmful. The objects or data collected by the objects could be hacked, and the software is subject to glitches. Lawmakers should require the software for items linked to the IoT be reasonably secure. More specific regulatory standards might be needed.


The Economics of Privacy
by Alessandro Acquisti, Curtis Taylor and Liad Wagman
Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 54, No. 2, pp. 442-492, 2016

Consumers and firms face trade-offs in deciding when to protect or disclose personal information. Whether privacy makes consumers, firms, or society as a whole better off varies widely depending on the context. Consumers often lack information about how data will be used. Protecting privacy is not a “one-size-fits-all” problem. Even when data use is beneficial, privacy concerns should be addressed.


Below are a collection of recent TAP blogs that have examined issues with consumer data privacy.


Joseph Turow Wants to Retire the Phrase ‘Privacy Policy’
August 29, 2018

In an opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times, University of Pennsylvania communications professor Joseph Turow explains why the term ‘privacy policy’ is misleading consumers.


A First (But Very Incomplete) Crack at Inventorying the California Consumer Privacy Act’s Problems
by Eric Goldman
August 3, 2018

Santa Clara University professor Eric Goldman offers a list of some of the identified errors and major ambiguities in the recently passed California Consumer Privacy Act. This post also provides additional resources for learning more about the bill.


Did the LabMD Case Weaken the FTC’s Approach to Data Security?
by Daniel J. Solove and Woodrow Hartzog
June 28, 2018

Professors Daniel Solove, George Washington University, and Woodrow Hartzog, Northeastern University, examine the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision in LabMD's challenge to an FTC enforcement action.


It’s Time for Identity Portability
by Joshua Gans
June 15, 2018

Rotman School of Management economics professor Joshua Gans introduces his policy brief for The Hamilton Project: “Enhancing Competition with Data and Identity Portability.”


Google Is Polishing the Most Important Consumer Contract Ever
by Omri Ben-Shahar
June 1, 2018

University of Chicago economics professor Omri Ben-Shahar questions if a streamlined or snazzy privacy policy presentation improves people’s understanding of how their personal data will be used by a website.


TAP Scholars Examine the GDPR Effect
May 25, 2018

TAP scholars explore the scope of the General Data Protection Regulation on privacy and security controls globally and the potential influence on U.S. data protection regulation.