Unpacking privacy for a networked world

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


CHI, ACM, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA (0)


Privacy; surveillance; monitoring; access regulation; boundary management; disclosure; social psychology; Privacy - ACM


Although privacy is broadly recognized as a dominant concern for the development of novel interactive technologies, our ability to reason analytically about privacy in real settings is limited. A lack of conceptual interpretive frameworks makes it difficult to unpack interrelated privacy issues in settings where information technology is also present. Building on theory developed by social psychologist Irwin Altman, we outline a model of privacy as a dynamic, dialectic process. We discuss three tensions that govern interpersonal privacy management in everyday life, and use these to explore select technology case studies drawn from the research literature. These suggest new ways for thinking about privacy in sociotechnical environments as a practical matter.


Privacy as a boundary regulation processes between privacy and publicity: · Dialetic: is conditioned by our own expectations and experiences, and by those of others with whom we interact · Dynamic: under continuous negotiation and management, based on circumstances. Depends on: · Social context · Intention · Coordination between action and the disclosure of that action Concepts: · Pervasive: penetrating, infiltrating · Invasive: Intrusive, interruptive · Subversive: Promoting rebellion and destruction, tending to undermine Concerns: · Minimizing embarrassment · Protecting turf (territory) · Staying in control of one’s time Privacy depends on physical cues and psychological and social cues (behaviours norms): · Physical: inaudibility and inability to see · Behaviours: physical touch, eye contact, interpersonal space. Threats by information technology: · No sharing of physical space · Recordability and persistence of information that before was ephemeral · Intersection of physical and virtual spaces behaviours conflicts Conditions of circumstances is a function of: · Local physical environment · Audience · Social status · Task or objective · Motivation and intention · Information technologies in use (conditions, constraints, expectations) Boundaries that characterize privacy management: · Disclosure: privacy and publicity in tension. What info might be disclosed, under what circumstances · Identity: in tension with audience. Self and other: o Recipient design – the way that one’s actions and utterances are designed with respect to specific others o Reflexive interpretability of action – one’s own ability to understand and anticipate how one’s actions (and information, demeanor, etc.) appear to others. o Mediation: what is conveyed through technology mediators is not what intended. · Temporality: past, present and future interpretations of and actions. Genres (social patterns of expectation and response) of disclosure: in which way privacy management in everyday life involves combination of social and technical arrangements that: · Reflect, reproduce and engender social expectations · Guide the interpretability of actions · Evolve as both technology and social practices change Technology and privacy are representations; genres of disclosure sets the expectations around these representations, integrating them into recurrent social practices. References: · Altman, I. 1975. The environment and social behaviour: privacy, personal space, territory and crowding. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co., Inc. · Altman, I. 1977. Privacy regulation: culturally universal or culturally specific Journal of social issues, 33 (3), 66-84. · Bellotti, V. & Sellen, A. 1993. Media Spaces: Bring people together in video, audio and computing environments. Proc. Third European conf. Computer-supported cooperative work ECSCW’93 (Milano, Italy), 77-92. Dordrecht: Kluwer Agre, P. 1999. Changing places: contexts of awareness in computing. Human-computer interaction , 16 (2-4), 177-192.