Jules Polonetsky and Omer Tene, A Theory of Creepy: Technology, Privacy and Shifting Social Norms

Jules Polonetsky and Omer Tene, A Theory of Creepy: Technology, Privacy and Shifting Social Norms

Comment by: Felix Wu

PLSC 2013

Published version available here:

Workshop draft abstract:

The rapid evolution of digital technologies has hurled to the forefront of public and legal discourse dense social and ethical dilemmas that we have hardly begun to map and understand. In the near past, general community norms helped guide a clear sense of ethical boundaries with respect to privacy. One does not peek into the window of a house even if it is left open. One does not hire a private detective to investigate a casual date or the social life of a prospective employee. Yet with technological innovation rapidly driving new models for business and socialization, we often have nothing more than a fleeting intuition as to what is right or wrong. Our intuition may suggest that it is responsible to investigate the driving record of the nanny who drives our child to school, since such tools are now readily available. But is it also acceptable to seek out the records of other parents in our child’s car pool or of a date who picks us up by car? Alas, intuitions and perceptions of “creepiness” are highly subjective and difficult to generalize as social norms are being strained by new technologies and capabilities. And businesses that seek to create revenue opportunities by leveraging newly available data sources face huge challenges trying to operationalize such subjective notions into coherent business and policy strategies.

This article presents a set of legal and social considerations to help individuals, businesses and policymakers navigate a world of new technologies and evolving norms. These considerations revolve around concepts that we have explored in prior work, including transparency; accessibility to information in usable format; and the elusive principle of context.