Access control plays an important role in protecting security-sensitive sensor data from being utilized by malicious users. Despite the numerous studies on access control for wireless sensor networks (WSNs), however, few of them pay attention to preserving user privacy, which has recently been an urgent demand of the network users. In this paper, we propose two access control schemes with different privacy preserving properties for WSNs, which can adaptively satisfy the demands of the sensor network users. First, on the basis of our signcryption approach, we propose a distributed query protected access control scheme where the query message is encrypted in the process of user authentication. Because no other users could decrypt and read the query message, the user can preserve the privacy of the target data type. With the additional help with proxy signature, we then design a distributed anonymous access control scheme. Apart from protecting the data type information, distributed anonymous access control preserves the privacy of the user's access behavior by anonymizing the user's identity. In contrast to the previous privacy-preserved access control schemes for WSNs, our schemes can efficiently protect the privacy of users without significantly increasing the network overhead and the energy consumption on sensors. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.