Unity in Privacy Diversity: A Kaleidoscopic View of Privacy Definitions

Paper by Bert-Jaap Koops and Maša Galič: “Contrary to the common claim that privacy is a concept in disarray, this Article argues that there is considerable coherence in the way privacy has been conceptualized over many decades of privacy scholarship. Seemingly disparate approaches and widely differing definitions actually share close family resemblances that, viewed together from a bird’s-eye perspective, suggest that the concept of privacy is more akin to a kaleidoscope than to a swamp. As a heuristic device to look at this kaleidoscope, we use a working definition of privacy as having spaces in which you can be yourselves, building on two major strands in privacy theory: identity-building and boundary-management. With this heuristic, we analyze how six authoritative privacy accounts can be understood in the terms and rationale of other definitions. We show how the notions of Cohen (room for boundary management), Johnson (freedom from others’ judgement), Nissenbaum (contextual integrity), Reiman (personhood), Warren and Brandeis (being let alone), and Westin (control over information) have significant overlap with—or may even be equivalent to—an understanding of privacy in terms of identity-fostering spaces. Our kaleidoscopic perspective highlights not only that there is coherence in privacy, but also helps to understand the function and value of having many different privacy definitions around: each time and context bring their own privacy-related challenges, which might best be addressed through a certain conceptualization of privacy that works in that particular context. As the world turns its kaleidoscope of emerging privacy issues, privacy scholarship turns its kaleidoscope of privacy definitions along. The result of this kaleidoscopic perspective on privacy is an illuminating picture of unity in diversity….(More)”.