I was flipping through Scientific American’s special issue on privacy when I noticed a piece detailing their industry roundtable on privacy. I was immediately struck by the fact that all the experts were men. Now, I realize the perils of gender essentialism. But if we’re all located in different sorts of cultural and sociological situations, then 10 men (mostly white) coming from places of respect in industry certainly do have some things in common with one another that they don’t share in common with many people with different gender, (trans)national, racial, class, legal (etc) locations.
Put more simply, what does it mean that technological privacy discourse in the US seems to largely (but not exclusively) be the province of well-employed, technologically savvy, often white men?
Is the disproportionate presence of white men just because men are overrepresented in many high-status positions? Or is there something privacy as a discourse that invites certain kinds of perspectives and not others?
What kinds of ellisions are frequently made when discussing privacy and biological, social, financial, locational, or other data?
Of course, it would be too simple to assume that, say, people with medical conditions are more concerned about privacy and data hiding than other people. (I actually had this hypothesis in some ethnographic research around privacy I did last year.) Sites like Patients Like Me let people put volunteer their symptoms, drugs they’re taking, and discussions of their experience.
One disability activist group I studied met in Second Life and discussed personal information about living with a disability. One of their causes was to fight for patient rights. I once asked if they were worried about members of another group they planned actions against eavesdropping. One person explained, “At least that would mean that they cared about what we had to say!”
Predicting what people want to keep private is highly situated. Maybe the first step would be that privacy experts would stop giving us privacy prescriptions and start encouraging us to reflect on our privacy needs.