"The digital citizen today maintains a perpetual information illiteracy—an intellectual detachment from the rapidly expanding universe of Big Data. The digital citizen knows they are somehow affected by what is going on. Internet evolution continually, terms of service statements regularly, and data privacy mentions occasionally, serve as reminders that they are being swept along by great drifts of circumstance.""Yet the Internet’s data-driven affairs are in no convincing way the affairs of the digital citizen. Big Data’s operations are for the most part invisible, managed at distant centers, from behind the scenes, by unnamed powers. As a private person, the digital citizen does not know for certain what is going on, or who is doing it, or where they are being carried. No newspaper reports their environment so that they can grasp it; no school has taught them how to imagine it; their ideals, often, do not fit with it. Digital citizens live in a world which they cannot see, do not understand and are unable to direct. In the cold light of experience the digital citizen knows that data privacy self-management is a fiction."Had The Phantom Public been written today, and Walter Lippmann been concerned with the nature of our digital existence, perhaps this is how his opening chapter would have read. In 1927, critiquing what he refers to as “the mystical fallacy of democracy” (p. 28), Lippmann decries academic and popular misconceptions suggesting that individuals can be self-governing in a democracy. With language now infamous for its fiery and at times offensive tone, Lippmann challenges perpetuations of democratic delusion; spoken sedatives that, to this day, are strategically prescribed by politicians aiming to assuage publics that might otherwise fear political marginalization. Almost 90 years later, his words and his pragmatism are as relevant as ever, and should be applied in new contexts where similarly romantic and impractical calls for self-governance quiet those easily sedated, concurrently wasting time, money and energy in the pursuit of what Walter Lippmann called an “unattainable ideal” (p. 29).
This paper begins with a review of Lippmann’s ‘fallacy of democracy,’ allowing for further conceptualization of the ‘fallacy of data privacy self-management.’ What follows is a policy analysis of recent privacy efforts by the US government that perpetuate the data privacy self-management fallacy. The analysis begins with a look at data proliferation, linked to a sweeping digitization of everyday life, and a Big Data industry that is growing as quickly as its stockpiles. The myriad data sources and data collectors will be emphasized in an attempt to highlight the complexity and impossibility of data privacy self-management. Calls for data self-governance by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the White House, and the US Congress are presented next, with brief references to Lippmann’s critique interspersed. Recent research supporting the view that data privacy self-management is a fallacy will be described. The discussion section summarizes the critique and briefly introduces a more pragmatic approach to the challenges identified, and one in need of further inquiry—representative data management.