Publication Title

Columbia Law Review


privacy, social taxonomy, taxonomy of privacy, privacy harms, algorithmic bias, information-based discrimination

Document Type



What distinguishes privacy violations from other harms? This has proven a surprisingly difficult question to answer. For over a century, privacy law scholars labored to define the elusive concept of privacy. Then they gave up. Efforts to distinguish privacy were superseded at the turn of the millennium by a new approach: a taxonomy of privacy problems grounded in social recognition. Privacy law became the field that simply studies whatever courts or scholars talk about as related to privacy.

Decades into privacy as social taxonomy, the field has expanded to encompass a broad range of information-based harms—from consumer manipulation to algorithmic bias—generating many rich insights. Yet this approach has come at a cost. This Essay diagnoses the pathologies of a field that has abandoned defining its core subject matter and offers a research agenda for privacy in the aftermath of social recognition.

Our critique is overdue. It is past time to think anew about exactly what work the concept of privacy is doing in a complex information environment and why a given societal problem—from discrimination to misinformation— is worthy of study under a privacy framework. Only then can privacy scholars articulate what we are expert in and participate meaningfully in global policy discussions about how best to govern information-based harms.

Included in

Privacy Law Commons



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