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The Economics of Privacy

Information privacy has become one of the most important and hotly debated topics in technology policy. For example, personalization is a key engine driving Internet innovation and economic growth, and the emerging business models of many companies are built upon the collection and analysis of personal information from their users. The increased collection and use of this information, however, can sometimes threaten individual privacy.

Inside these companies, debates about information privacy focus most often on questions about markets and economics: Who owns the data? Have the users consented? Can't robust notice-and-choice strike the best balance between business need and privacy? Often is heard the argument that users are perfectly capable of revealing the amount of privacy they prefer through their market decisions, which is used to oppose calls for laws that promise more privacy than the market delivers as paternalistic.

In the meantime, despite the fact that information privacy represents one of the most exciting, rapidly growing areas of legal scholarship, information privacy law scholars rarely express any faith in market principles, when they talk about markets at all. Government regulators seem a bit more conflicted, with recent pronouncements from the Commerce Department, FTC, and Congress each premised largely on market-based, notice-and-choice principles, but recognizing the limits of markets.

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