FTC's YouTube Privacy Settlement Pisses Everyone Off; Perhaps We're Doing Privacy Wrong

from the friday-news-dumps dept

It’s becoming a tradition. A week ago, we wrote about a Friday evening news “leak” (almost certainly from Facebook) about the FTC approving a settlement with Facebook over privacy violations. And, this past Friday evening, there was a similar news dump about a similar settlement with YouTube (though at a much lower dollar amount). In both cases, the Friday evening news dump was almost certainly on purpose — in the hopes that by Monday, something bigger will have caught the news cycles’ attention. Thankfully, we don’t work that way.

Let’s cut to the chase, though. No one (outside of, perhaps, YouTube/Google/Alphabet execs) is “happy” with this. Pretty much everyone will point out, accurately, that a “multi-million dollar” fine is effectively meaningless to YouTube. No one believes that this will magically lead to a world in which internet companies take privacy more seriously. No one believes this will lead to a world in which anyone’s privacy is better protected.

And while I’m sure some people will complain about the amount (pocket change for Google), I’m not sure the amount really makes much of a difference. Remember, last week’s angry response to the $5 billion that the FTC is allegedly getting from Facebook. That’s a much higher amount (by a massive margin) the largest the FTC has ever gotten from a company.

Perhaps there’s a larger issue here: this system of expecting private companies and overworked/understaffed federal (or state) agencies to somehow manage our privacy for us does not work — no matter what your viewpoint on all of this is. Perhaps we should be looking for solutions where users themselves get better direct control over their data, and aren’t reliant on giant fines or government bureaucrats “protecting” it for them. Because if we’re just going to go through this charade over and over and over again, it’s not clear what the benefit is for anyone.

If you don’t trust Google/Facebook, then no fine is going to be enough. If you do trust them to hold onto the data they collect, then this whole thing feels like a bit of privacy theater. No one ends up happy about it, and nothing is actually done to protect privacy. I’ve been pointing out for a while now that we’re bad at regulating privacy because most people don’t understand privacy, and I think these kinds of things are a symptom of that. There’s this amorphous concept out there of “privacy,” and people — egged on by media stories that aren’t always accurate — have a concern that the companies don’t do a very good job protecting our privacy. And they’re right about that. But, there’s no agreement on what privacy means or how you actually “protect” it. And the only tools in the toolbox right now are fines or crazy, confusing, misguided regulations that seem to only lock in large players and hand them an even more dominant position (allowing them to do more things that people are uncomfortable with).

There needs to be a better approach — and it has to be one that starts more from first principles about what it is that we’re actually trying to accomplish here, and what will actually get us there. What we have now is not that.

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Comments on “FTC's YouTube Privacy Settlement Pisses Everyone Off; Perhaps We're Doing Privacy Wrong”

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Anonymous Coward says:

The root cause of the problem is that their is no restriction on a companies ability to collect and sell data on everybody that the can. Therefore there need to be legal restriction on data that a company can gather, and what they can share. Some data is required for the service provided, or to make sales, but gathering of extra data should be banned, along with sharing and pooling of data collected by multiple companies. Tracking user activity for advertising purposes, outside of use of an individual site, should be outright banned.

This means that things like Facebook Like buttons should be implemented that they only send data to Facebook when clicked by a user, but definitely not when the page is loaded. That is the functionality can be provided without using it as an excuse to track user activity not related to the site to which it refers.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, and again we have an absolutist view. The question demands a benefit of a company tracking "everything" when "everything" is not necessarily what Cdaragorn is talking about. Let’s not jump to extremes, please.

However, it is possible to easily name one benefit of a company having access and being able to share personal data – Facebook Friend matching, and things like it.

Regardless of your personal feelings on it, there are people who like being matched up with people they knew from way back and had fallen out of touch with, etc. Matching user to user is a tangible benefit to those users who want this.

Whether it’s worth the trade-off of privacy is ultimately a subjective ruling – I personally don’t want it, but others do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

However, it is possible to easily name one benefit of a company having access and being able to share personal data – Facebook Friend matching, and things like it.

If Facebook does that with data given to Facebook, that is fine. If, as has happened, a company snaffles a contacts lists from a phones in an underhand way to do that, I would consider it a privacy breech.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I think TFG is right, but the simplest formulation of this is: "convenience." Many people are clearly willing to give up their data in exchange for convenience. They find that the short-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.

The bigger questions — and the much harder one — involve the long term benefits and costs. I think most people who are upset about these platforms are (perhaps correctly) worried about the long term costs.

But as we’ve seen, it’s difficult to get people to take long term costs into account, especially when there are short term conveniences.

But to argue that there are "no" benefits, is not consistent with reality.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

My biggest objection is companies collecting data just because they can. Sticking with Facebook, if I set up an account and provide personal information, then yes they can use that to suggest friends etc.

What I think should be banned is sites using beacons, trackers etc. to try and hoover up information about people, when they are on other sites, or as you note, ISPs selling you web history to other parties.

Its like I find Tescos suggestion based on my shopping history with them to be useful, it occasional reminds me of some grocery item I have overlooked in an order. That information however, should not be available to say Amazon, to be combined with My Amazon shopping history.

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

See, much better conversation. If you’re advocating for better privacy handling, don’t hand an easy score to whoever by falling for the trap of "name one benefit" – there are benefits, and you will not achieve anything by trying to deny they exist.

The question you want to ask, which Mike did, is whether the benefits are worth the cost, and what to do to balance it all out. Remember that Facebook provides a service that people want – convenient connectivity. On its own, convenient connectivity is a good thing. People who want to talk to each other, to share things, to generally interact should have the option to do so. I don’t believe it would be fair to those users who want that (for example, my mother) to simply deny the ability for it to exist due to concerns over privacy.

At the same time, there’s the problem of privacy violations. There’s the problem of Facebook’s shadow profiles. There’s the problem of these trackers that go all over the internet. There’s the problem of data silos being juicy targets for various bad actors (not excluding governments or the maintainers of the data silos themselves) leading to massive breaches of personal data.

There’s definitely the problem of consent. I have issues with Facebook, but I also have issues with Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. I certainly didn’t give them permission to build a profile on me – and yet our current economy is so wrapped around credit and credit scores that denying them their data gathering has potentially disastrous aftereffects. If we want to do away with non-consensual credit history gathering, we would need to slowly disentangle our current system from the concept of a credit score in order not to tank whole businesses and leave large swathes of people in a lurch.

There’s no quick, easy answer to these questions. Trying to find or legislate one will result in disaster of some kind.

urza9814 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yeah, seems like at least once a month I’m reading some journalist talking about how we really need a more privacy-focused social network. But there’s plenty of those, some of which have been actively developed for more than five years already. There’s diaspora* and GNUSocial and Mastadon, then there was that thing "Anonymous" announced a while back, there’s centralized but "private" ones like Vero and MeWe, and there was one I read about a couple weeks ago that was going for 100% locally stored data, but I can’t even find a reference to that thing anymore. "Privacy-centric social networks" are a dime a dozen these days; that’s not the solution.

Everyone keeps talking about the need to build a new network, as though this is one of those situations where "if you build it, they will come." But it’s not. We’ve already built it, and nobody is there. Keep in mind that even Google couldn’t figure out how to pry people away from Facebook and privacy is certainly not the feature that’s most likely to bring in users. Most people don’t care. Even most software devs don’t care. Certainly none of the ones I work for have even mentioned any of these settlements. Most of them still think Facebook is the greatest website ever made. And if you can’t get grandma, can’t get your musician friend, can’t even get software engineers to see the value of your network…then the value is zero, because a social network is useless if you don’t have a sufficient mass of users.

We have a number of proposals for how a privacy-focused social network can work. But what else can we do with that technology? We need more than just "a safer (but probably slower) way to do the thing you’re already doing that you’ve never had a problem with." Here’s one easy (but probably insufficient) example — Facebook cannot possibly maintain connectivity in any kind of disaster situation. The network is going to be dead or overloaded and you won’t get through. A well-designed distributed system could potentially avoid this issue entirely, although you’d probably need to couple it with some kind of distributed network access. What else can a more distributed social network do that Facebook can never hope to match? Because if it’s just a matter of developer time…they’ll not only implement the same feature, they might get it first. We need a "killer app" that is more than just "better privacy", and it needs to be something that requires a privacy-focused design to work in the first place.

But there’s also the second problem, the network access problem. The entire infrastructure is not designed for distributed systems. We can’t build a true distributed social network when we haven’t even build a distributed communications network. We may need to implement that infrastructure first before those "killer apps" that require a distributed network will even be feasible. One way of doing that is to build on top of other platforms — something like Tor or Freenet perhaps, where we can build the application today and change the network infrastructure later. But those are also slow, and people aren’t going to use "Facebook, but slower".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"Name one benefit of every company tracking everything anybody does online?"

Benefit to whom?
My guess is that there is no benefit at all for any of those whose data is being gathered. None.

The typical example of targeted advertising is a non starter due to the fact that most people do not like it and think it is creepy.

MathFox says:

One way to look at privacy (and the EU regulations are largely based on this view) is:

Privacy is an Intellectual Property right. It is the right of a person to restrict the processing and distribution of information about him.

As with all IP rights it should not be absolute, but laws can be made to allow some uses and restrict others.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Lumping it in with IP "rights" only brings in all the inherent problems existing in that system and does nothing to address the actual problems we’re concerned about.

Privacy is no more a right than IP. Yes it’s something we think is important enough that there should be regulations on it but trying to elevate it to the value of a right is pretending it exists without outside control and leaves us thinking many very wrong ideas make sense when they are actually very damaging to everyone including the people they claim to protect. Most recent EU regulations attempting to regulate privacy are a perfect example of this problem.

MathFox says:

Re: Re:

Patents and Copyrights are different rights; created by independent laws, have different rules, etc. Lumping them together into IP serves more to describe the line of business of a lawyer than that those two area’s of law necessary belong together.

Yes, IP rights are problematic because the rules of IP law are not founded in physical reality. Assault hurts another; theft robs a person of something valuable. Copyright infringement spreads culture.

Privacy is problematic in some of the same aspects. The EU and the US have different views on the subject. (Not unsurprisingly copyright law was significantly different before 1976 in the US compared to the rest of the world.) Calling Privacy "an IP right" might help to find a compromise in the debate.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

We Need A Privacy Bill Of Rights

I think some kind of Privacy Bill of Rights is the next step forward. This needs to be compiled by experts in the field leaning heavily towards the public interest.

We need to decide upon and agree as to what data can be held about us by private enterprise and what can be done with it. As it is, giving up expectation of privacy is the price you pay to be online. Should that always be the case? Perhaps this should be crowd-sourced and people should be able to put their points towards it. Is this something Copia could do?

Concord Management shut down Mueller's fantasy says:

Re: We Need A Privacy Bill Of Rights

Is this something Copia could do?

Sheesh! You’ve been reading / commenting Techdirt for many years and still haven’t grasped that Masnick is a BIG supporter of surveillance capitalism? — The VERY "think tank" that you expect to protect privacy is FUNDED by Silicon Valley and GOOGLE! — The disconnect is amazing. You have achieved true doublethink.

Anonymous Coward says:

YouTube/Google/Alphabet execs do indeed care about privacy, at least when it comes to protecting one of their own, as recently demonstrated by the nuking of a Youtube video showing (among many other things) a Google executive being filmed in a crowded public place (while candidly admitting Google’s alleged political agenda).

Was Google creating and enforcing a new rule just for that one occasion, or will this be the new YouTube standard, that video taken in a public place must have the permission of every identifiable person?

Avideogameplayer says:

Re: Re:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t SCOTUS say there was no privacy in a public place?

If that’s true, there is an argument that can be made about your data actually being private. You can screenshot pics of FB and Twitter, so how can you expect companies to maintain privacy if any anon can do this?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


admitting Google’s alleged political agenda

Didn’t that executive only admit that Google was trying to prevent a repeat of the foreign interference in American elections from 2016? If you perceive that admission as an agenda either for or against someone, perhaps your beliefs and your politics are in need of reëxamining.

Concord Management shut down Mueller's fantasy says:

Re: Re: You don't have to wonder, "Stone":

the evidence is still online even after being censored by the very criminals it exposes:

HOUSE.GOV is now Hosting Project Veritas Video Exposing Google’s Plans to Rig the 2020 Election Against Trump courtesy of Rep. Gohmert


Now, there was NO significant "foreign interference" in the 2016 election. You clowns hear unfounded assertions from sources you trust, that’s it forever: you pay no attention after two years of dedicated investigation and millions of taxpayers dollars spent turned up ZERO.

In Major Blow to Mueller, Federal Judge Rebukes Mueller and DOJ For Falsely Claiming `Russian Bot Farm’ Linked to Russian Government

In a major blow to Mueller, judge Friedrich said, "Save for a single allegation that Concord and Concord Catering had several "government contracts" (with no further elaboration), the indictment alleges only private conduct by private actors."


Here’s article with the quotes from the video which are unequivocal:

UPDATE: Insider Reveals GOOGLE Plan to Prevent ‘Trump Situation’ in 2020…


And here’s one that unequivocally shows attitude:

BREAKING: New Google Document Leaked Describing Shapiro, Prager, as `nazis using the dogwhistles’

Project Veritas has obtained a newly leaked document from Google that appears to show a Google employee and member of Google "transparency-and-ethics" group calling conservative and libertarian commentators, including Dennis Prager and Ben Shapiro, "nazis."


Googlers are the smiling 30-something face of the New Nazis blithely stating how they intend to use their actual power to suppress dissent and re-make society.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Project Veritas

Isn’t that the group that got caught trying to plant a false accusation against Roy Moore in the Washington Post? The same group that selectively edits its “sting” videos to make the subjects of those “stings“ look worse than they do in the context of the full video? Man, I knew you believed in bullshit, but I never thought you’d be so willing and able to do so!

Anonymous Coward says:

A lot of these problems would be solved if the product that the social websites produced was paid for by the consumers of the product, that all people who wished to buy a product paid the same price instead of price being determined by one’s Chinese type social score, there was a competitive market in social websites.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A lot of these problems would be solved if the product that the social websites produced was paid for by the consumers of the product

I hear this a lot and I see literally no evidence to support this.

We pay for our broadband and mobile phone services, and the amount of surveillance, data collection and sharing with others that they do is WAY beyond what the "free" internet services do. Way, way beyond.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not only is there no evidence to support it, it just doesn’t make logical sense.

  • There is no rule that says they need to inform people in any meaningful way about their data being hoovered and resold (in my opinion our biggest problem)
  • It is very difficult to track the privacy leaks or problems back to the source, so customers probably wont find out they are the ones who did it
  • it makes them more money

Where is the incentive for companies not to do this?

Ben (profile) says:

Re: 1st Principles ?

How about something along these lines:

  • Lawfulness, fairness and transparency – you must process personal data lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner in relation to the data subject.
  • Purpose limitation – you must only collect personal data for a specific, explicit and legitimate purpose. You must clearly state what this purpose is, and only collect data for as long as necessary to complete that purpose.
  • Data minimisation – you must ensure that personal data you process is adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to your processing purpose.
  • Accuracy – you must take every reasonable step to update or remove data that is inaccurate or incomplete. Individuals have the right to request that you erase or rectify erroneous data that relates to them, and you must do so within a month.
  • Storage limitation – You must delete personal data when you no longer need it. The timescales in most cases aren’t set. They will depend on your business’ circumstances and the reasons why you collect this data.
  • Integrity and confidentiality – You must keep personal data safe and protected against unauthorised or unlawful processing and against accidental loss, destruction or damage, using appropriate technical or organisational measures.
    (h/t GDPR – https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/data-protection-principles-under-gdpr)
christenson says:

Re: Re: 1st Principles ?

There’s a big problem with first principles: Very few can reason from them…and there’s lots of gray.

Second problem: all this binds ethical actors. That thumb drive with all the NSA’s secrets??? Ask Ed Snowden.

Third problem: We don’t know what privacy means in practice, let alone have a good definition, especially given how easy it is to hoover up ungodly creepy amounts of data, especially if ethics is no bar.

Day to day means I don’t want my computer telling any of my friends I’m hanging out on Techdirt or something. Then there’s the psychopathic law enforcement (and credit, and gub’mint) that I don’t want making decisions on that basis.

Anonymous Coward says:

maybe the answer would to have never gone after any person or company in the first place? governments everywhere should have been looking after everyone’s security and privacy but because they were more interested in getting everything, from everyone, everywhere while giving nothing away of what they were doing (the lying, cheating fuckers) we now have such an awful screw up that no one, anywhere is safe from anyone or any quarter! nothing but a money making factory for governments (issuing fines of whatever magnitude) while fixing nothing. how the hell is this helping the situation?

Concord Management shut down Mueller's fantasy says:

Tell us what power "users" have over mega-corporations?

[Back after working browser session QUIT. Techdirt is clearly back to old sneaky habit. But I know to save text before attempt.]

Perhaps we should be looking for solutions where users themselves get better direct control over their data, and aren’t reliant on giant fines or government bureaucrats "protecting" it for them.

Sheesh. There are no such "solutions". That’s just your usual dodge to promise a myth in favor of gov’t action that could start lessening problem tomorrow.

Google invades privacy so much as can, tracking everyone all over the net. Only way to avoid PART of that tracking is to never allow javascript. — And by the way, TOR Browser does NOT avoid the tracking: first, you cannot "host" out sites through the OS’s hosts file: it ignores that so hits the one-pixel graphics tracking sites at the very least, and second, if leave on "safe browsing" then Google gets your visits directly — under guise of keeping you safe — and third: browser fingerprints work adequately nearly all the time. You need a spoofer at the least.

Google tracks everyone, including you. It needs regulated, broken up, and taxed to the very edge of existence. It has zero right to exist: like all corps, it’s only allowed for good of We The People, not the few surveillance capitalists and the Deep State, of which it’s a part.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Tell us why you hate Ownership?

Hey Blue Balls – One more challenge for you. Since you have claimed that "Reason" is a great site, how does the Libertarian notion of Enterprise jibe with your ridiculous opinions of corporations? How do we have free enterprise (or commerce) if you want to outlaw corporations?

Of nevermind, you’ll just tell me to go to Reason and ask myself because you aren’t smart enough to answer…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Tell us what power "users" have over mega-corporat

Google is the devil, they are evil, they bad.

Why not use a different search engine? Oh, because then there would be less to complain about. If the browser you use is crap, why not use a different browser? Again, then you would have less to complain about. What is it that is really bothering you?

Anonymous Coward says:

I see two separate issues here. One being the privacy of the individual and the other being the lack of security of the info "gathered" on individuals.

I think a starting point is to demand that these data hounds need to have a minimum amount of security protecting the data of millions of individuals. If they are unable to accomplish this then perhaps they should not be engaged in the vacuuming up of all available data.

The identity theft industry relies upon the shit security of these outfits. Fear based advertising coupled with gaslighting seems to be their preferred operating procedure.

Anonymous Coward says:

I find it annoying when a business asks for information they clearly do not need in order to process a transaction. An example is the now defunct Radio Shack. Go in to buy some batteries and they need to know who you are, your address and your phone number. Certainly this contributed to their downfall.

It is fun to tell a business they do not need my phone number, the look they give you – LOL. Sometimes I will wave my hand in a Jedi Master kind of way when saying You do not need my phone number. Some dude saw me once, he thought it was hilarious.

Anonymous Coward says:

But, there’s no agreement on what privacy means or how you actually "protect" it.

I don’t agree to this.

Privacy can be summed up with one question: Do I want this information made public?

If the answer is "No", then companies should be required to store my information encrypted so they cannot "scan, detect, recognize, use, modify, or share under any circumstance".

If the answer is "Yes", then there is no expectation of privacy.

I go to a restaurant to eat dinner, people can see me in public and I take care of what I’m speaking if I don’t want people to know anything. I have no expectation of privacy, even if I see myself in someone’s uploaded video.

I put my tax returns in the safety deposit box at my bank, who owns the boxes. I don’t ever expect this information to be made public.

Google’s position on privacy isn’t a debate.

Google’s position on privacy is they don’t give a shit because they’re now untouchable both financially and judicially.

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If the answer is "No", then companies should be required to store my information encrypted so they cannot "scan, detect, recognize, use, modify, or share under any circumstance".

When you go to the supermarket, they track every single item you purchase. (You can opt out by not using your saver-card, but they still collect it.)

What part of that information belongs to the supermarket, and which part is yours?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If paying cash, the items bought belong to the supermarket, my ID belongs to me. If using a credit card, my ID is only loaned to the supermarket until the transaction is completed, and then they should disassociate my ID from the items purchased. So far as the credit card company is concerned, the only reason they need to know the items bought is to have some record that lasts only until the ‘loan’ (aka credit) is resolved. If using a debit card, then both the supermarket and the bank need the ID only until the transaction is completed, the bank doesn’t need the items sold after that, and the supermarket should disassociate my ID from the items purchased.

In other words, the confluence of what was bought and someones ID should only be kept when a record of the transaction is necessary, and they should be disassociated immediately upon completion of the transaction. Keeping records of items bought in bulk without being associated to individuals is not a problem, they need to be able to see trends and restock appropriately.

Neither should have any ability to resell information with my ID associated to it.

Anonymous Coward says:


Perhaps there’s a larger issue here: this system of expecting private companies and overworked/understaffed federal (or state) agencies to somehow manage our privacy for us does not work

The FTC’s budget is apparently $300 million/year. If they can really get $5 billion from Facebook, they’ll have little excuse for being understaffed.

ECA (profile) says:

There used to be privacy..

There used to be allot of privacy laws…CUT.
Then there were a few extra added..
But most have been CUT, over the last 20-25 years..
the Major one is the telephone service, compared to cellphones they had the most privacy…
And I have suggested over the years, that Cellphones ARE NOT COVERED by those laws, and there are few that Do protect the cellphones. And over the years, its been proven many times. And forget about Digital Scrambling..is REAL basic, and cant REALLY do allot. as you have to be able to Talk to the Towers FIRST, and those codes are known.
99% of the problems I tend to see, stem from around laws for the internet, and YOU/I/OTHERS clicking around..
I dont mind alittle Spam… but its getting worse(again) and even going to my Snail mail, AND calls on my cellphone from Idiots not knowing the Laws about SALES CALLS..

The most fun Iv seen, is a person of group asking you to VOTE/input data to be in a drawing..
Total Collection.
Cereal sites and others that REQUEST/DEMAND info before you can even enter?
Sites that demand you let them send you notices, or allow scripts and Drop Adblock..so you can see anything on the site..

Iv suggested to many sites that they can create their OWN advert business, and KNOW that the adverts are clean, that the 3rd party CRAP, is clean..

Iv been to Anima and porn sites with LESS CRAP on them.. THEY have learned the problem and created a business to DEAL with it for themselves…the rest of these idiots Dont see it. MAKE Adverts your business, CREATE them,Market for those companies..Kill off the OLD agencies…

Anonymous Coward says:

The problem isn’t privacy. It is mass surveillance by corporations and their government partners.

People don’t understand mass surveillance because it is intentionally done with as little transparency as possible.

Even if the collection and use of personal data by the main players was made reasonably transparent – people wouldn’t understand it because they don’t understand databases and analytics and the data economy and they don’t have the ability or time to learn.

Informed consent is not possible for most people.

Mike’s "crazy, confusing, misguided regulations" are precisely what is needed. Only the data harvesting corporations, their government partners and a smattering of (generally low tech literate) others like Mike believe otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The reason why they are crazy, confusing, and misguided is because they are based on a shallow and incomplete conceptual understanding of the problem at hand. You are right that informed consent is not possible for most people, and that is indeed insufficient to deal with the opacity of the data economy, but there is work being done to get a better handle on this problem (cf. Balkin’s work on information fiduciaries).

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