Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 233–247 | Cite as

A practice–theoretical account of privacy

  • Wulf LohEmail author
Original paper


This paper distinguishes between two main questions regarding the notion of privacy: “What is privacy?” and “Why do/should we value privacy?”. In developing a social-ontological recognitional model of privacy (SORM), it gives an answer to the first question. According to the SORM, Privacy is a second order quality of roles within social practices. It is a function of who is or should be recognized as a “standard authority”. Enjoying standard authority means to have the right to interpret and contest role behavior and role obligations within a specific practice (first level), as well as evaluate the normative structure, the fundamental practice norms as well as the roles and their status (second level). The SORM utilizes the concept of standard authority to explicate privacy with regard to two categories that capture the relevant phenomena of privacy: decisional and informational privacy. Within a practice, an actor is said to have decisional privacy if she as a BCR does not (or does not have to) recognize bearers of accidental roles as standard authorities. Vice versa, an actor is said to enjoy informational privacy if all other BCRs (and especially data collecting actors) recognize her as a standard authority. Additionally, the requirement of mutual recognition by the practice participants as standard authorities introduces a “weak normativity” into the theory, which can be used to identify deficient privacy arrangements within practices.


Privacy Social ontology Recognition Practice theory Social pathologies 



This work is supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the “Be-Greifen” project (16SV7527).


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of StuttgartStuttgartGermany

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