Anita Allen Article on Race and Online Privacy

Anita L. Allen of Penn has written Dismantling the Black Opticon: Race Equity and Online Privacy and Data Protection Reform, forthcoming in the Yale Law Journal. Here’s the abstract:

In the opening decades of the 21st century popular online platforms rapidly transformed the world. These platforms have come with benefits, but a heavy price to information privacy and data protection. I propose a new framework for describing African Americans’ multifaceted situation of risk and harm relating to wrongful data collection, use, analysis and sharing online: the Black Opticon. African Americans online face three distinguishable but related categories of vulnerability to bias and discrimination that I dub the “Black Opticon”: discriminatory oversurveillance (panoptic vulnerabilities to, for example AI empowered facial recognition and geolocation technologies); discriminatory exclusion (ban-optic vulnerabilities to, for example, unequal access to goods, services and public accommodations advertised or offered online); and discriminatory predation (con-optic vulnerabilities to, for example, con-jobs, scams and exploitation relating to credit, employment, business and educational opportunities). Escaping the Black Opticon is unlikely without acknowledgement of privacy’s unequal distribution and privacy law’s outmoded and unduly race-neutral façade. African Americans could benefit from race-conscious efforts to shape a more equitable digital public sphere through improved laws and legal institutions. This essay critically elaborates the Black Opticon triad and considers whether the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (2021), the federal Data Protection Act (2021), and new resources for the Federal Trade Commission proposed in 2021 possibly meet imperatives of a race-conscious African American Online Equity Agenda, specifically designed to help dismantle the Black Opticon. The 2021 enacted Virginia law and the bill proposing a new federal data protection agency include civil rights and non-discrimination provisions; and the Federal Trade Commission has an impressive stated commitment to marginalized peoples within the bounds of its authority. Nonetheless the limited scope and pro-business orientation of the Virginia law, and barriers to follow-through on federal measures, are substantial hurdles in the road to true platform equity. The path forward requires jumping those hurdles, regulating platforms, and indeed all of the digital economy, in the interests of nondiscrimination, anti-racism and anti-subordination. Toward escaping the Black Opticon’s pernicious gaze, African Americans and their allies will continue the pursuit of viable strategies for justice and equity in the digital economy.

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