When nudge comes to shove: Liberty and nudging in the era of big data
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionTechnology in society. 2019, 59. 10.1016/j.techsoc.2019.04.006
In this article, I examine how nudging powered by Big Data relates to both negative and positive liberty. I focus in particular on how liberty is affected by appeals to irrational mechanisms. I conclude that it is problematic to use liberty as an argument for nudging. Such an argument would have to be based on the concept of positive liberty, empowerment and emancipation from irrationality, but I argue that even stronger arguments against nudging can be built on the same conception of liberty. I consider Big Data-powered nudging to have the potential to be both manipulative and coercive, and believe that we should be wary of the effects such efforts have on liberty. As I consider liberty to be part of what makes a good society, this becomes an effort to analyse one aspect of the effects of technology on society in general. While I do not accept arguments in favour of nudging based on liberty, it is easier to see that arguments based on utility could support nudging. I do not evaluate what the proper trade-off is between utility and liberty in this article, and it is obvious that, at times, utility trumps an absolute demand for liberty. However, I argue in favour of transparent traditional regulation and rational persuasion instead of nudging, when these approaches can serve the same purposes. Should we choose to nudge, we should not euphemise our efforts by claiming that we do so on behalf of freedom.