MIS40650 – Emerging Modes of Organising Work and their Implications

This session explored the concept of privacy and its implications in modern IT based social culture. Introna’s article summarizes the various theoretical notions of privacy and the current debate about privacy in academic circles.

Introna – Why we need privacy

The article mentions that what is surprising is that privacy did not get explicit attention from any of the great liberals. Liberal philosophers such as John Locke, Rousseau, Wilhelm van Humboldt and J. S. Mill did not spend as much as a page in their voluminous writings on the subject. Moreover, significant philosophical debate on the subject only emerged in the late 1960s. Why is this so? Could it be that privacy, as some suggest, is a modern very suspect concept invented by Warren and Brandeis in 1890 in response to a personal situation?

In the first part of article author tries to define privacy and accepts that it is such a primordial notion that any universally acceptable definition is difficult. But still Introna groups various different definitions into three fairly distinct but not mutually exclusive categories, namely: 1. privacy as no access to the person or the personal realm; 2. privacy as control over personal information; and 3. privacy as freedom from judgment or scrutiny by others.

Privacy as no access to a person or personal realm

Warren and Brandeis (1890, 205) defined privacy as the “the right to be let
alone.” But this definition was critiqued on various points. By this definition a person or institution can watch your every move but if they leave you alone their spying on you is acceptable. Also there are certain institutions or individuals that have a legitimate right not to leave you alone, such as the tax service or your creditors. Another definition from Van Den Haag (1971) is more deep i.e. “privacy is the exclusive access of a person to a realm of his own. The right to privacy entitles one to exclude others from (a) watching,(b) utilizing, (c) invading his private [personal] realm.” But again this definition implies that there is a certain realm, here expressed as personal, to which one may legitimately limit access. The obvious problem here is the definition of what is private or personal. Most scholars agree that to a large extent the exact demarcation of the personal realm is culturally defined. There is no ontologically defined personal realm.

Nevertheless, from a legal and communicative perspective, personal information can be defined as “those facts, communications or opinions which relate to the individual and which it would be reasonable to expect him to regard as intimate or confidential and therefore to want to withhold or at least to restrict their circulation” (Wacks, 1980). Gross (1967) is in agreement with this notion of privacy as “the condition of human life in which acquaintance with a person or with affairs of his life which are personal to him is limited.” He also refers to “intellectual” access by using the word “acquaintance”.

The above definitions, however, do not enable one to differentiate between the loss of privacy and the question of whether or not one’s right to privacy has been violated. An individual may voluntary give access to his personal realm to various other individuals intimately known or maybe unknown to him. In such a case, the person may be said to be less private, but no one has violated his right to privacy. This leads to the issue of control that is made explicit in the next group of definitions.

Privacy as control over personal information

Fried (1968) defines privacy as “control over knowledge about oneself.” This notion of control of personal information is also captured in the definition by Westin by defining privacy as “the claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others” (1967, 7, 42). Or in a more general sense by Parker (1974) as the “control over when and whom
the various parts of us can be sensed by others.”

Clearly, from a legal point of view, the violation of the right to privacy is very important. However, from a social relationship perspective it is the actual loss of privacy that is the issue at stake. Gavison (1980) defines a loss of privacy occurring when “others obtain information about an individual, pay attention to him, or gain access to him.” In this definition and the previous group the need for privacy is implicitly assumed. There is also no mention of the ‘other’ in the relationship given that privacy is a relational notion. This is where the notion of judgment-by others in the next group of definitions becomes explicit.

Privacy as freedom from judgment or scrutiny by others

The real issue of privacy according to Johnson (1989) is the judgment by others. He expresses it as follows:

Privacy is a conventional concept. What is considered private is socially or culturally defined. It varies from context to context. It is dynamic, and it is
quite possible that no single example can be found of something which is
considered private in every culture. Nevertheless, all examples of privacy have a single common feature. They are aspects of a person’s life which are culturally recognized as being immune from the judgment of others.

It is the knowledge that others would judge us in a particular way, perhaps
based on preconceived ideas and norms, that makes the individual’s desire
a personal or private space of immunity.

Author summarises the notion of privacy in these definitions as below

  1. Privacy is a relational concept. It comes to the fore in a community. Where people interact, the issue of privacy emerges.
  2. Privacy is directed towards the personal domain. What is deemed personal is, to some extent at least, culturally defined. In general one may state that personal or private aspects of my life are those aspects that do not, or tend not to, affect the significant interests of others.
  3. To claim privacy is to claim the right to limit access or control access to my personal or private domain.
  4. An effective way to control access to my personal realm is to control the distribution of textual images or verbal information about it.
  5. To claim privacy is to claim the right to a (personal) domain of immunity
    against the judgments of others.
  6. Privacy is a relative concept. It is a continuum. Total privacy may be as
    undesirable as total transparency. It is a matter of appropriateness for the
    situation at hand. It is unfortunately (or fortunately) a matter of judgment.

Next Introna’s article delves into the notion of Why Privacy? and this was explained from four perspectives

Privacy as the context of social relationships

The perspective here is that all social relationships, relationships of collaboration or of competition, require at least some level of privacy. There will be no private thoughts and no private places. Every thought and every act is completely transparent from motive right through to the actual thought or behaviour; body and mind immediately and completely transparent to each and every “other”. In such a world, how would you differentiate yourself, how would you compete? Is creativity possible? How is it possible to say “this is my idea” or “this is what I think”?

Privacy and intimate relationships

Fried argues that privacy provides the “moral capital” required by intimate relationships
of love and friendship:

Love and friendship, as analysed here, involve the initial respect for the rights of others which morality requires of everyone. They further involve the voluntary and spontaneous relinquishment of something between friend and friend, lover and lover. The title to  information about oneself [one’s beliefs, emotions, feelings, dreams, desires, etc.] conferred by privacy provides the necessary something. (p. 483)

It is this possibility of exchanging personal information about oneself (within a context of caring) that creates the possibility for intimacy. Gerstein argues that intimacy is an experience of a relationship in which one is deeply engrossed and in which one fully and wholly participates. It is a relationship where we relinquish our role as independent observer to lose ourselves in the experience. The key point is that we cannot at the same time be lost in an experience and be observers of it. Thus, privacy creates the moral capital (the personal information) and the possibility to participate (share the information) in a relationship in which I am deeply and exclusively engrossed as participant. Without privacy such intimate relationships would not be possible, or at least they would be extremely difficult to maintain.

Privacy and social roles

It is a generally accepted fact that individuals maintain a variety of relationships by assuming or acting out different roles. It is in fact different patterns of behaviour or roles that to a large degree define the different relationships and make them what they are. Privacy, through the rules, rituals, etc. that demarcate the private/public domain for a specific class of relationships, creates simplified relational structures that allow the individual to cope with the complexity – also, to appropriately invest in a selected set of intimate relationships. Gavison (1984) argues that Privacy “permits individuals [in the reciprocal relationship] to do what they would not do without it for fear of an unpleasant or hostile reaction from others.”

Privacy and self-constitution or autonomy

One of the most common arguments for privacy is its role in the creation and preservation of individual autonomy. If a person is aware that he is being observed, the person becomes conscious of himself as an object of observation. As an object of observation the person will then not merely structure his action according to his own will or intention, but also in line with (or in realisation of) what he believes those who observe would expect to see. Without privacy there would be no self. It would be difficult, even impossible, to separate the self from the other, since no act or thought could be said to be, in any significant way, original. Without privacy, a person would not be creator or originator, but merely a copier or enactor. As ReinÈman (1976) concludes: “privacy is necessary to the creation of selves out of human beings, since a self is at least in part a human being who regards his existence, his thoughts, his body, his actions as his own”

The last section of the article tries to unravel the linkage between notion of privacy and the information society.

Information technology, through electronically mediated communication, by removing time and space limitations, is rapidly multiplying interaction possibilities by orders of magnitude. As the technological infrastructure expands, the issues of social relationships, roles and autonomy will become more and more urgent. A whole new set of rules, rituals and gestures will have to evolve to deal with this new, more abstract set of electronically
induced social roles. The whole notion of trust, so important for social roles and relations is becoming ambiguous in modern world. The appropriate demarcation of private and public (in terms of appropriate behaviour and knowledge) for a specific type of role now becomes very vague.

Reinman argued that privacy is a social ritual by means of which an individual’s moral title to his existence is conferred. Privacy is an essential part of the complex social practice by means of which the social group recognizes and communicates to individuals that their existence is their own. Thus, as information technology (cellular telephones, television, the Internet, Groupware, etc.) progressively invades more and more private space (turning it into public space), individuals will be faced with fewer possibilities for making their existence their own. This is the essence of Foucault’s argument that the modern society through its panoptic universal “gaze” is creating mechanisms of power that are far more subtle and encompassing than ever before.

Introna concludes the article by saying that it is for the ultimate good of society as a whole that privacy is preserved, even at the expense of legitimate social control. Without some
preserved private spaces, society would lose its most valuable asset: the true individual.

Next Orlikowski’s article on matrix of control was discussed and extent to which IT deployed in work processes facilitates changes in forms of control and forms of organising was explored.

Orlikowski – Matrix of Control

The information technology facilitates decentralization and flexible operations on the one hand while increasing dependence and centralized knowledge and power on the other hand. The article discussed two forms of control

Internal forms of control

Pennings and Wiceshyn (1987) examine various forms of internal control in organisations, two important ones are personal and systemic control. Personal control is identified in terms of a dyadic relationship between supervisors and subordinates having its usual expression in direct supervision where one individual assumes authority over the actions of others and closely monitors that action to ensure compliance with orders. Systemic control represents a shift from personal relations to more transparent, indirect and impersonal forms of control and is vested in three interrelated structural properties of organisations – technology, social structure and culture. In control through technology control is embedded in the technical infrastructure of the production process. In control through social structure control is embedded in a firm’s policies, procedures and rules, it’s well defined job descriptions, career ladders and incentive schemes. In control through culture worker’s shared norms and values shape behaviour, order perception and influence attitudes.

External forms of control

Professional control is also employed by organisations where they delegate a large part of the indoctrination and training of their specialist employees to outside institutions such as professional schools and occupational communities. Organisations resort to this form of control as production processes become complex and dependent on highly specialized skill and knowledge. The authority invested in individual professionals is based on the special occupational competence they apply under conditions of task uncertainty, risk, complexity and variability e.g. accountants, engineers.

Systemic and professional forms of control can be seen as instances of Foucault (1979) disciplinary power in that control is exercised indirectly and impersonally through a range of institutional, technical and normative regulations and does not emanate directly or physically from individuals.

Next the article explores the linkage between IT and forms of control in which author draws on Gidden’s theory of structuration. Structure exists only as it is instantiated in action and information technology can be interpreted as an occasion for structuring organizations which both facilitates and constrains action. The forms of control in organisation are just mechanisms by which agents seek to achieve and maintain the compliance of others. In Gidden’s analysis such forms of control are premised on expressed through asymmetrical distribution of resources. Two kinds of resources are distinguished: allocative resources used to generate power over objects and authoritative resources used to generate power over persons.

The author then applies these concepts in a field study conducted in a large, multinational software consulting firm. Software Consulting Corporation (SCC). The author deduced that SCC uses systemic forms of control by the use of Production Knowledge, Socialization & Impression Management. It also uses personal forms of control using Direct Supervision & Electronic Supervision.

Next Solove’s article on End of Privacy was discussed.

Solove – End Of Privacy

The key concepts picked up in the article are

  • Social-networking sites allow seemingly trivial gossip to be distributed to a worldwide audience, sometimes making people the butt of rumours shared by millions of users across the Internet.
  • Public sharing of private lives has led to a rethinking of our current conceptions of privacy.
  • Existing law should be extended to allow some privacy protection for things that people say and do in what would have previously been considered the public domain

The session also covered an interview with MIT Media Lab’s Alex “Sandy” Pentland where Big Data and its impact on privacy was discussed.

Pentland – With Big Data comes Big Responsibility

Big data and the “internet of things”— in which everyday objects can send and receive data—promise revolutionary change to management and society. But their success rests on an assumption: that all the
data being generated by internet companies and devices scattered across the planet belongs to the organizations collecting it. What if it doesn’t? Pentland outlined the concept of the New Deal which is a legal framework proposed to rebalance the ownership of data in favour of the individual whose data is collected.

Below is a good video of Turkle’s lecture exploring the concept of privacy in modern world

PODCAST: Sherry Turkle – “Alone Together” – London School of Economics Public Lecture Series – http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/videoAndAudio/channels/publicLecturesAndEvents/player.aspx?id=1027 (96 mins)

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