Towards an alternative concept of privacy

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society 9 (4):220-237 (2011)
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Abstract

PurposeThere are a lot of discussions about privacy in relation to contemporary communication systems (such as Facebook and other “social media” platforms), but discussions about privacy on the internet in most cases misses a profound understanding of the notion of privacy and where this notion is coming from. The purpose of this paper is to challenge the liberal notion of privacy and explore foundations of an alternative privacy conception.Design/methodology/approachA typology of privacy definitions is elaborated based on Giddens' theory of structuration. The concept of privacy fetishism that is based on critical political economy is introduced. Limits of the liberal concept of privacy are discussed. This discussion is connected to the theories of Marx, Arendt and Habermas. Some foundations of an alternative privacy concept are outlined.FindingsThe notion of privacy fetishism is introduced for criticizing naturalistic accounts of privacy. Marx and Engels have advanced four elements of the critique of the liberal privacy concept that were partly taken up by Arendt and Habermas: privacy as atomism that advances; possessive individualism that harms the public good; legitimizes and reproduces the capitalist class structure; and capitalist patriarchy.Research limitations/implicationsGiven the criticisms advanced in this paper, the need for an alternative, socialist privacy concept is ascertained and it is argued that privacy rights should be differentiated according to the position individuals occupy in the power structure, so that surveillance makes transparent wealth and income gaps and company's profits and privacy protects workers and consumers from capitalist domination.Originality/valueThe paper contributes to the establishment of a concept of privacy that is grounded in critical political economy. Owing to the liberal bias of the privacy concept, the theorization of privacy has thus far been largely ignored in critical political economy. The paper contributes to illuminating this blind spot.

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References found in this work

Why privacy is important.James Rachels - 1975 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 4 (4):323-333.
Towards a theory of privacy in the information age.James H. Moor - 1997 - Acm Sigcas Computers and Society 27 (3):27-32.
The limits of privacy.A. Etzioni - 1999 - Journal of Law Medicine and Ethics 27 (3):288-288.
Privacy and Freedom.Alan F. Westin - 1970 - Science and Society 34 (3):360-363.
Intimacy and privacy.Robert S. Gerstein - 1978 - Ethics 89 (1):76-81.

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