Limits of individual consent and models of distributed consent in online social networks

Juniper Lovato, Antoine Allard, Randall Harp, Laurent Hébert-Dufresne

Personal data is not discrete in socially-networked digital environments. A user who consents to allow access to their profile can expose the personal data of their network connections to non-consented access. Therefore, the traditional consent model (informed and individual) is not appropriate in social networks where informed consent may not be possible for all users affected by data processing and where information is distributed across users. Here, we outline the adequacy of consent for data transactions. Informed by the shortcomings of individual consent, we introduce both a platform-specific model of "distributed consent" and a cross-platform model of a "consent passport." In both models, individuals and groups can coordinate by giving consent conditional on that of their network connections. We simulate the impact of these distributed consent models on the observability of social networks and find that low adoption would allow macroscopic subsets of networks to preserve their connectivity and privacy.

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