Digital technology has revolutionised many areas, ranging from science, defence, education, sport and leisure, entertainment, policymaking, civil society, finance, defence, policing and many more. It is widely appreciated that these revolutions depend on access to abundant data about people and their behaviour. Many of the great benefits of the modern world are therefore bought at some cost to privacy.
With increasing concern about the potential threats to privacy, many experts are addressing these often thorny issues, across disciplines including law, computer science, cybersecurity, economics, psychology, sociology, statistics, technology design, ethics, medicine and medical science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, management, ethnography, and many others.
The cross-fertilisation of these disciplines has been immensely fruitful. However, as they each contain different methodologies and tools to engineer different types of outcome, there has been an inevitable increase in complexity when we talk about privacy. The common problem has not led to a common language. Different argots compete, serving different imperatives. Some projects are conceptual, while others aim to create privacy-supportive architectures. Some are aimed at enabling people to make choices and achieve their preferences, while others try to support the contextual integrity of social norms. Legal and moral rights compete against less idealistic regulatory and political constraints. For some, privacy is achieved by the implementation of an algorithm; for others it requires enforcement of rights and freedoms; still others see it as a constant process of negotiation of interests.
The danger is that such a heterogeneous study space creates an inchoate cacophony of misunderstanding, in which various vices can flourish, ranging from technological solutionism, to legalism and casuistry, to abject surrender to the disclosure of our very identities. To prevent this, we need resources to enable productive discussion across disciplines and sectors of society.
There have been many successful ad hoc attempts to do this in the context of particular research projects. However, until now, there has not been a single resource that documents the vocabulary of privacy studies, such that individual researchers, entrepreneurs, regulators, policymakers and students can find the terminology and assumptions of the varying disciplines set out for inspection and comparison. The Dictionary of Privacy, developed by four expert fellows of SPRITE+ (who themselves represent disciplines including statistics, cybersecurity, law, computer science and philosophy), is an attempt to create such a resource to fill this gap.
With over a thousand terms meticulously set out, described and cross-referenced, the Dictionary of Privacy explains, in simple and straightforward language, complex technical terms, legal concepts, privacy management techniques and conceptual matters, alongside the ‘common sense’ vocabulary that informs public debate. While the field is fast-moving, the Dictionary takes a longer view, abstracting away from the details of today’s problems, technology and law, to the wider principles that underlie all privacy discourse. In that way, it is hoped that the Dictionary will remain relevant to privacy research for many years to come.
Call for Events is now open! We're supporting Members and Expert Fellows to lead activities that explore aspects of TIPS in the Digital Economy. We will help to organise the activity with up to £5,000 to cover the associated costs.