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Too Much Information! Privacy, Rationality, Temptation and the Implications of 'Willpower Norms'

DePaul University - College of Law

This Article explores the implications of bounded rationality and limited willpower for regulation of the societal flow of personal information. Because people are limited in their information processing capacity and are tempted both to pry into information they cannot interpret correctly and to disclose information that others cannot process rationally, a problem of "too much information" can arise. Social norms regulating prying, gossip, and the "appropriateness" of personal revelations appear to have developed in response to this problem.

The Article proposes a general category of "willpower norms" that includes many social norms governing the flow of personal information. Willpower norms may be enforced through social sanctions if deviations are detected. Additionally, internal self-control strategies may interact with social norms to provide a novel mechanism by which willpower norms can be effective against undetectable self-control lapses.

Though personal information norms have an important role to play in averting inefficient prying and disclosure, willpower norms, like other social norms, may fail. In some instances, for example, personal information norms can devolve into inefficient "silencing norms" that impede the evolution of social values. The "don't ask, donít tell" policy regarding gays in the military can be analyzed in this way.

Bounded rationality and limited self-control undermine the assumptions that more information is always better and that choices to disclose, obtain, or use personal information always indicate long-term preferences. However, the complicated relationship between rational choice, personal autonomy, and efforts to control the flow of personal information, also cautions against overly intrusive legal regulation.

Keywords: Privacy, willpower, temptation, social norm
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Contact Information for KATHERINE J. STRANDBURG (Contact Author)

DePaul University - College of Law
Chicago , IL 60604-2287
United States
312-362-8536 (Phone)

Suggested Citation
Strandburg, Katherine J., "Too Much Information! Privacy, Rationality, Temptation and the Implications of 'Willpower Norms'" (September 7, 2004).

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