The Information Society

BACK | TIS HOME

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief Rob Kling
14(4) 1998

This issue of The Information Society, 14(4), includes a special section of about the Social Construction of Privacy that organized and edited by by Dr. Christine and Prof. James Katz. It also includes a new feature for The Information Society -- a section devoted to Review Essays – as well as two Forum articles and two book reviews.

The Social Construction of Privacy section includes three articles that examine the ways that people formulate privacy issues in their daily lives. In the opening article, "Privacy in the Marketplace," Christine Hine and Juliet Eve report on study of the views of UK consumers views’ of the collection and use of personal information by commercial organizations in connection with shopping. Their informants could not identify any single type of information, such as age, that counted as personal in all situations. Rather, they formulated a view of "privacy infringements" that depended upon the situation. Hine and Eve found that "situated privacy" depended upon: the visibility of a mediating technology; the perceived legitimacy of information requests; the representation of intrusion or disruption of legitimate activity; perceived imbalances of power and control; and representations of the social context. By focusing on the daily activity -- shopping – instead of asking direct questions about privacy, they found that privacy concerns were rarely independently raised by their informants as an important feature in making decisions about purchasing. However, most of their informants were cognizant about uses and misuses of personal information when they were asked about privacy issues in relation to shopping.

"The Distribution of Privacy Risks: Who Needs Protection?" by Charles D. Raab and Colin J. Bennett examines the what should know, do know, and can learn about the risks of privacy privacy problems. They examine whether and how these risks can be measured, and how they vary across social groups and the sectors in which personal data are used. They argue that systematic knowledge about these risks is critical for understanding the societal effects of information technology. Systems will remain deficient, and we will have limited abilities to make and implement policies for privacy protection, that enable more equitable distributions of risk and protection. Their article examines conventional paradigms in data protection, including the standard procedural view that treats individuals alike as abstract 'data subjects.' Raab and Bennett argue that, in practice, this view helps to legitimate extensive surveillance systems. They formulate a socially richer view of people as situated in specific human contexts, and differentiated (at minimum) by such categories as their age, gender, ethnicity and social roles. They examine several privacy surveys and the ways in which perceptions of risk varies with personal characteristics such as these. For example, low-income low-education and minority racial groups have keener concerns about privacy risks than do better-educated and middle class respondents. The article ends by examining some theoretical issues of risk, and raises questions about the objectivity and perception in assessing the risks of privacy invasion.

In the last privacy article, "Places and Spaces: The Historical Interaction of Technology, Home, and Privacy," Stuart Shapiro examines shifting view of public and private behavior in our homelives. Like Raab and Bennett, he is interested in enriching the conventional conceptions of data users, data subjects and fixed norms about privacy issues. His historical account reaches back to medieval Europe where there was much less of a boundary between the public and private than in contemporary societies. His analysis contrasts privacy norms across time, and also across places (ie., England versus New England). He explores how different technologies, including structural elements, have affected and reflected over time the boundary represented by the home and how that boundary has helped shape the construction of privacy in the West. This illustrates how privacy can be conceptualized as a social condition arising from the interaction of various boundaries, including the principal one separating the public and the private.

This issue includes two Forum articles. The Forum is a section of The Information Society devoted to "position statements." These articles can take strong points of view, and need not be argued with the same scholarly support as normal articles. They are also normally shorter than normal article (usually up to 4,000 words). Last, they differ from op-ed article because they can (and often do) include footnotes and citations.

In the first Forum article, "The Meaning of the Web" Jim Falk argues that understanding the meaning of the Internet challenges many of the categories within which we have grown used to thinking about the shape and meaning of society and its future. For individuals and local communities, the promises, hopes and fears associated with the growth of the web have particular poignancy as they face the challenge of establishing and asserting their identity in a ever more complicated and interdependent world, and through that, finding a strategy for achieving the sort of future they would like to live. Falk examines the traditional theoretical tools which we have available to understand these issues. He addresses some of the central difficulties and possibilities in re-thinking identity, exploring the new promising cultural potential of the Internet in a more integrated and simultaneously fragmenting world.

In the second Forum article, "Information Access in Africa: Problems with Every Channel," William Wresch argues that every information channel within Africa is restricted relative to industrial societies. In his bleak assessment, he observes that African television stations produce few of their own shows and fill airtime with relatively inexpensive American imports, even though they advance cultural values that often conflict with local cultural values. Book production is also limited by costs that are high relative to the incomes of most Africans. Unfortunately the Internet does not seem to be a promising alternative since relatively high phone charges limit people’s network access.

This issue of The Information Society inaugurates a new format, the Review Essay which is an integrated analytical review of a closely related set of books. This issue’s Review Essay by Felix Stalder examines the monumental work of Manuel Castells’s trilogy, The Information Age.

This issue ends with the review of two books Milton Mueller’s Universal Service: Competition, Interconnection, and Monopoly in the Making of the American Telephone System and Carl Couch’s Information Technologies and Social Orders.

Please check our Indiana University-Bloomington web site (www.slis.indiana.edu/TIS) for news on forthcoming issues, calls for papers, and abstracts of articles from previous issues. Prospective authors may reach us via email at tisj@indiana.edu

Please check our web site for news on forthcoming issues, calls for papers, and abstracts of articles from previous issues. 

Home | Table of Contents | Editorial Letters