As we use these services, they learn more and more about us. They see who we are, but we are unable to see into their operations or understand how they use our data. As a result, we have to trust online services, but we have no real guarantees that they will not abuse our trust. Companies share information about us in any number of unexpected and regrettable ways, and the information and advice they provide can be inconspicuously warped by the companies’ own ideologies or by their relationships with those who wish to influence us, whether people with money or governments with agendas.
To protect individual privacy rights, we’ve developed the idea of “information fiduciaries.” In the law, a fiduciary is a person or business with an obligation to act in a trustworthy manner in the interest of another. Examples are professionals and managers who handle our money or our estates. An information fiduciary is a person or business that deals not in money but in information. Doctors, lawyers, and accountants are examples; they have to keep our secrets and they can’t use the information they collect about us against our interests. Because doctors, lawyers, and accountants know so much about us, and because we have to depend on them, the law requires them to act in good faith—on pain of loss of their license to practice, and a lawsuit by their clients. The law even protects them to various degrees from being compelled to release the private information they have learned.