Privacy, transparency, and the prisoner’s dilemma

Ethics and Information Technology 22 (3):211-222 (2020)
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Aside from making a few weak, and hopefully widely shared claims about the value of privacy, transparency, and accountability, we will offer an argument for the protection of privacy based on individual self-interest and prudence. In large part, this argument will parallel considerations that arise in a prisoner’s dilemma game. After briefly sketching an account of the value of privacy, transparency, and accountability, along with the salient features of a prisoner’s dilemma games, a game-theory analysis will be offered. In a game where both players want privacy and to avoid transparency and the associated accountability, the dominant action will be to foist accountability and transparency on the other player while attempting to retain one’s own privacy. Simply put, if both players have the ability or power to make the other more accountable and transparent, they will do so for the same reasons that player’s defect in a prisoner’s dilemma game. Ultimately this will lead to a sub-optimal outcome of too much accountability and transparency. While there are several plausible solutions to prisoner dilemma games, we will offer both technical, as well as, law and policy solutions. We need to change the payoffs of the game so that is it in everyone’s interest to balance privacy and accountability rather than foisting transparency on others.



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Adam Moore
University of Washington

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