Murky Consent: An Approach to the Fictions of Consent in Privacy Law

Paper by Daniel J. Solove: “Consent plays a profound role in nearly all privacy laws. As Professor Heidi Hurd aptly said, consent works “moral magic” – it transforms things that would be illegal and immoral into lawful and legitimate activities. As to privacy, consent authorizes and legitimizes a wide range of data collection and processing.

There are generally two approaches to consent in privacy law. In the United States, the notice-and-choice approach predominates; organizations post a notice of their privacy practices and people are deemed to consent if they continue to do business with the organization or fail to opt out. In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) uses the express consent approach, where people must voluntarily and affirmatively consent.

Both approaches fail. The evidence of actual consent is non-existent under the notice-and-choice approach. Individuals are often pressured or manipulated, undermining the validity of their consent. The express consent approach also suffers from these problems – people are ill-equipped to decide about their privacy, and even experts cannot fully understand what algorithms will do with personal data. Express consent also is highly impractical; it inundates individuals with consent requests from thousands of organizations. Express consent cannot scale.

In this Article, I contend that most of the time, privacy consent is fictitious. Privacy law should take a new approach to consent that I call “murky consent.” Traditionally, consent has been binary – an on/off switch – but murky consent exists in the shadowy middle ground between full consent and no consent. Murky consent embraces the fact that consent in privacy is largely a set of fictions and is at best highly dubious….(More)”. See also: The Urgent Need to Reimagine Data Consent

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