Luciano Floridi, Brett Frischmann and Shoshana Zuboff

Scholars from various disciplines claim that online targeted advertising – the primary source of wealth accumulation for companies such as Google and Facebook – is based on an economic logic that instrumentalizes human beings as the means to someone else’s financial (and political) gain. It uses the users, exploits their vulnerabilities, and manipulates them for the highest bidder’s benefit. Some scholars call for the ban of current business practices – as they claim that such instrumentalization and objectification violates very premises of political liberalism. Nevertheless, almost two decades now, this practice remains untouched, except for several hindrances from the regulators – such as the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

From a legal perspective, such economic logic is in direct clash with the concept of human dignity. This legal concept evolved throughout two millennial in Western philosophy and was molded as the foundational premise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Since then, human dignity is continuously regarded as the primary principle of the United Nations, the EU, and the US, as the locus for individuals’ rational and moral autonomy. It entails that such autonomy (and agency) is what entitles us to human rights, makes it possible to maintain the rule of law, and enables democracy.

This panel brings forth scholars from various disciplines to converge their knowledge and discuss whether online targeted advertising should be banned on the premise that it violates human dignity. The panelists are Prof. Shoshana Zuboff (Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School and the author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Prof. Luciano Floridi (Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information, University of Oxford), and Prof. Brett Frischmann (Professor of Law at Villanova University and the co-author of “Re-Engineering Humanity”).

This panel was organized by eLaw – Center for Law and Digital Technologies at Leiden University. Please follow this link to watch the full panel.

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