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When Automated Profiling Threatens Our Freedom:

A Neo-Republican Perspective


Eike Gräf

In this article, I use the political theory of neo-republicanism to assess when and how profiling practices curtail the freedom of individuals. Neo-republican principles applied to today’s practices permit to establish that domination exists 1) via intimidation and invigilation when profiling enables or enhances capacities to monitor persons, 2) via automated manipulation of a person’s choices, 3) via active interference with the scope of action of persons who are identified with the help of automated profiling, 4) via automated adjustments to a person’s informational or material environment, and 5) in cases of the personalisation of a person’s environment, when the person has no control over the way this personalisation happens. Applying neo-republican requirements to automated profiling provides simple means of making explicit what aspects of a given practice are problematic. The approach constitutes a straightforward benchmark that can be used to establish instances of best-practice or to develop complementary norms where existing privacy and data protection laws do not fully protect the subjects of automated profiling.
Tinder is often compared to a bar full of singles, but it’s more like a bar full of single people chosen for me while studying my behaviour, reading my diary and with new people constantly selected based on my live reactions. As a typical millennial constantly glued to my phone, my virtual life has fully merged with my real life. There is no difference any more. Tinder is how I meet people, so this is my reality. It is a reality that is constantly being shaped by others – but good luck trying to find out how.

Eike Gräf, Freie Universität Berlin and Sciences Po Paris; Policy Advisor at iRights.Lab, Berlin. For correspondence: <>.


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