For generations, companies have collected large amounts of information about consumers and have used it for marketing, advertising, and other business purposes. They regularly infer details about some customers based on what others have revealed. Marketing companies can predict what television shows you watch and what brand of cat food you buy because consumers in your demographic and area have revealed these preferences. They add these inferred characteristics to your profile for marketing purposes, creating a “privacy externality” where information others disclose about themselves also implicates you.

Machine learning increases the capacity to make these inferences. The patterns found by machine learning analysis of your online behavior disclose your political beliefs, religious affiliation, race, ethnicity, health conditions, gender and sexual orientation, even if you have never revealed this information to anyone online. The presence of a digital Sherlock Holmes in virtually all online spaces making deductions about you means that giving consumers control over their own information will not protect them from indirectly disclosing even their most sensitive information. READ MORE ON: BROOKINGS