Project Forum Privatheit und selbstbestimmtes Leben in der Digitalen Welt

Basic data

Forum Privatheit und selbstbestimmtes Leben in der Digitalen Welt
01/12/2013 to 31/03/2017
Abstract / short description:
In modern societies with widespread usage of digital media, private information can be disclosed on many occasions. The co-development of technical possibilities like data mining and genetic diagnostics and political regulation (e.g. data retention, biometric databases, body scanners) on the one hand and individual use of social networking sites, online shopping, or location based services on the other hand establish a tight mesh of information. This enables the ever more encompassing and detailed tracking of individuals’ lives. The “Forum Privacy and Autonomy in the Digital World” (website in German) is working on these questions in interdisciplinary research; uniting scholars from law, sociology, computer science, psychology, and philosophy.

The IZEW contributes a research project on the emerging challenges for determinations of “privacy”, “private sphere”, and “autonomy”. The new technical possibilities bring about a situation in which it does not suffice any more to conceive of privacy as pertaining to a single individual and a respective private sphere. The technologically mediated actions affect a lot of people, which makes a social and political perspective indispensable. The concept of privacy is formed and transformed in differentiation to established regimes: the state, the market, or the public. Yet, increasingly new spheres for action are emerging, which fuse several of these aspects. The research project analyses such a variable and diverse concept of privacy which is based on the respective contexts of action.

A second step is dedicated to research on mutual dependence of privacy and self-determination and the emergence of social identities. Forms of self-design in information and communication are structured by culturally and socially diverse norms. Consequently, personal identity is a place of contest between different social regimes. In this context, new technologies provide new means of technologically mediated self-relations, like those propagated by the quantified-self movements. New forms of communication online and using mobile devices change the conditions of negotiating and acting out social identities.

Both parts of the research project – privacy as differential concept and the importance of privacy for identity – show that privacy is an ambivalent concept. The claim “the private is political” which has been established by feminist movements may have lost attention in times of constant new revelations about almost total surveillance and the corresponding concerns how to protect the private sphere. Yet, the awareness remains significant that modes of action which are established in private spaces have social and political impact – especially if they are morally dubious. Since the project shows that this does not only affect particular actions but the social identity in general, this is of particular importance. Furthermore, declaring a social problem to be a private matter can be used to elude social and political responsibility. Not least this concerns privacy itself: Given the plethora of technical possibilities and solutions, are states or service providers responsible for protecting privacy? Or must the citizens care for themselves?

The research project spells out these ambivalences and reveals important consequences of the normative claims of both privacy and public transparency.
data protection



International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

Contact persons

International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)
Matzner, Tobias
Institute of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy and Media, Faculty of Humanities
International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

Local organizational units

International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)
University of Tübingen


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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