Volume 20, Issue 3, 2016
Information Privacy and Social Self-Authorship
The dominant approach in privacy theory defines information privacy as some form of control over personal information. In this essay, I argue that the control approach is mistaken, but for different reasons than those offered by its other critics. I claim that information privacy involves the drawing of epistemic boundaries—boundaries between what others should and shouldn’t know about us. While controlling what information others have about us is one strategy we use to draw such boundaries, it is not the only one. We conceal information about ourselves and we reveal it. And since the meaning of information is not self-evident, we also work to shape how others contextualize and interpret the information that they have about us. Information privacy is thus about more than controlling information; it involves the constant work of producing and managing public identities, what I call “social self-authorship.” In the second part of the essay, I argue that thinking about information privacy in these terms reveals threats to privacy that the control approach neglects. Namely, information technology makes social self-authorship invisible and unnecessary by making it difficult for us to know when others are forming impressions about us and by providing others with tools for making assumptions about who we are which obviate the need for our involvement in the process.