smsociety14 has ended
Saturday, September 27 • 10:41 - 11:00
"Representative data sovereignty: Overcoming big data’s challenge to flawed consumer choice policy"

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule and see who's attending!

Background: In 1927, Walter Lippmann published The Phantom Public, arguing for what he referred to as the ‘fallacy of direct democracy’. Lippmann wrote, “I have not happened to meet anybody, from a President of the United States to a professor of political science, who came anywhere near to embodying the accepted ideal of the sovereign and omnicompetent citizen” (Lippmann, 1927: 11). Had we the faculties and the system for enabling millions to realize popular rule, to control all areas of government ranging from the military, to health care, to infrastructure, to education, none of us would have time for work, family or enjoyment. In this ‘fantasy’, Lippmann argued, society would remain at a standstill, or worse yet, be doomed.

Repurposing Lippmann, this paper argues that new and existing data privacy legislation derived from the OECD Privacy Principles (e.g. Canada, EU, Brazil and US) strongly favors a flawed informed consumer choice model that perpetuates a similar fantasy – personal data sovereignty. Had we the faculties and the system for enabling every digital citizen the ability to understand and continually manage the evolving data-driven Internet, to control the data being collected, organized, analyzed, repurposed and sold by every application, commercial organization, non-commercial organization, government agency, data broker and third-party, to understand and provide informed consent to every terms of service agreement, and privacy policy - would we have time to actually use the Internet? To work? To enjoy? This is the fallacy of personal data sovereignty in a digital universe increasingly defined by big data.

If it is true that the fallacy of direct democracy is similar to the fallacy of personal data sovereignty, then the pragmatic solution is representative data sovereignty; a combination of for-profit/non-profit digital dossier management and government oversight ensuring the protection of personal data, while freeing individuals from what Lippmann referred to as an ‘unattainable ideal.’

Objective: Through a combination of policy and case study analysis, this paper aims to demonstrate the limitations of legislative efforts that favour informed consumer choice models of personal data privacy. New and existing forms of representative data sovereignty are discussed as more pragmatic alternatives.

Methods: A policy analysis of 4 legislative efforts (drawing from the OECD’s Privacy Principles) favouring an informed consumer choice model is conducted. These efforts include: Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the EU’s Data Protection Directive, Brazil’s Marco Civil legislation and the U.S. Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Three case studies are analyzed to provide justification for the policy critique: Noam Galai’s ‘Stolen Scream’, Max Schrem’s europe-v.facebook.org, and Hunter Moore’s revenge porn business. A discussion of the successful strategies of various identify theft protection companies, early representative data sovereigns (for example, Lifelock), will follow.

Results: The policy/case study analysis demonstrates that flawed informed consumer choice policy models are both widespread and incapable of addressing the challenges to data sovereignty posed by big data.

Conclusions: The possibilities presented by representative data sovereignty, evidenced by the successful efforts of various for profit enterprises operating mainly in the United States suggest that alternative policy approaches to data sovereignty must be considered.


Lippmann, W. (1927; 2009 edition) The Phantom Public. New Jersey: Transaction




Jonathan Obar

Assistant Professor, York University

Saturday September 27, 2014 10:41 - 11:00
TRS 1-129 Ted Rogers School of Management

Attendees (0)