Information Technology and the Social Construction of Information Privacy



Date of this version

Winter 2001

Document Type



Web privacy; Privacy assurance; Social construction; Professional ethics


This paper examines how the conflict between information technology and information privacy is socially constructed and enacted through judicial decisions, legislative mandates, and private sector initiatives such as WebTrustSM/TM and other privacy seal programs. We first identify some reasons individuals may have for wanting to control their personal information, how such privacy is eroded by advances in information technology, and the currently limited role of informed consent in managing the conflict between privacy and technology. We then argue that the existing judicial, legislative, and private sector initiatives in North America and Europe do not adequately achieve the goals of informed consent and other fair information practices. We further argue that privacy attestation will likely play a limited privacy protection role because it is only one of several social practices that manage the tensions between information technology and information privacy. Finally, we discuss some policy implications of information technology and the erosion of society's expectations about privacy, some difficult trade-offs between private and public interests, and whether interested parties (including accountants in public practice) can become effective agents of social change in the information privacy arena.

Published in

Journal of Accounting and Public Policy

Citation/Other Information

PII: S0278-4254(01)00037-0

Journal of Accounting and Public Policy, 2001, vol. 20, pp. 295-322.