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Privacy as a fuzzy concept: A new conceptualization of privacy for practitioners

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Abstract

In recent years, technological innovation has re-ignited an interest in privacy as designers, policy makers, and users each strive to reconcile the advantages of technology with the new demands they pose for privacy. Driven by a classic approach to defining concepts, scholars have not been able to agree on a unified definition of privacy. This poses a barrier to those who seek to implement privacy through their decisions. A critical component of their work involves anticipating and responding to potential privacy risks. In choosing one definition over another, practitioners might be missing nuanced contextual overlaps that bear on privacy and thus bias their subsequent decisions. For these practical endeavors, it is important to adopt an inclusive and rich definition. Such a definition should also be responsive to how those affected by decisions that might compromise privacy, namely citizens and technology users, conceive of privacy. The present paper applies a prototype perspective on privacy that acknowledges the fuzziness of concepts and goes on to develop such a definition in a series of empirical studies. The relevance of the privacy prototype is then explored as it applies to privacy theorists, practitioners, and methodologists, suggesting new avenues for future research.

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