Privacy as fourth-wave consumer protection

Historians of consumerism have recognized three waves of consumer movements. The first surrounded the passage of the 1906 food and drug law. The second took hold after the Great Depression and reached its height with the passage of amendments to the FDA Act and the Wheeler–Lea Amendments to the FTC Act. The third was actuated by environmental and product safety concerns and resulted in the institutionalization of consumerism at the FTC in the 1970s.

It seems that every thirty years or so, a new consumer protection movement takes hold. Online privacy would seem to fit the mold for such a movement, as defined by Robert O. Herrmann: “The movement has arisen as a reaction to three persisting problem areas: (1) ill-considered application of new technology which result in dangerous or unreliable products, (2) changing conceptions of the social responsibilities of business and (3) the operations of a dishonest fringe and the occasional lapses of others in the business community.”

Robert O. Herrmann, The Consumer Movement in Historical Perspective, in CONSUMERISM: SEARCH FOR THE CONSUMER INTEREST (Aaker and Day, eds., 2nd edn, 1974).

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