Privacy literature contains conceptualizations of privacy in relation to role-playing and identity construction, and in relation to access control and boundary-management. In this paper, I combine both strands to introduce the concept of privacy spaces: spaces in which you can play, in your own way, the relevant role(s) you have in social life. Drawing from privacy conceptions in legal scholarship, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, human geography, and psychology, a systematic overview of traditional privacy spaces is offered, including mental bubbles, the body, personal space, personal writings, the home, private conversation space, cars, stalls, intimacy bubbles, professional black boxes, coffee house spaces, public places, and political privacy places.
This overview yields important insights: privacy is an infrastructural condition relevant in all zones of social life (from personal to public); privacy boundaries can be visible or invisible, fluid or stable, impenetrable or permeable; privacy protection relies on complementary mechanisms of access restriction and discretion (a distinction that captures privacy protection more accurately than that between access and control); and, most importantly, privacy protection is primarily a process of social regulation rather than legal regulation.
These insights are used to briefly discuss why digital, online, and onlife spaces pose privacy challenges. While traditional spaces of social interactions are being scrambled and rehashed into digital and onlife spaces, associated social norms do not necessarily co-evolve. Since digital spaces are often interconnected and interoperable, fewer boundaries avail to clearly delimit privacy boundaries, and digital spaces more often trigger different partial identities than traditional spaces do. Moreover, the co-habitation of service providers in digital spaces contrasts with traditional physical spaces, where “space providers” do not usually or systematically observe what people do. Thus, digital, or onlife, impression management virtually requires people to be aware of all their selves all of the time, severely hampering their feeling they can safely be “themselves” in any given situation, and leading to a demise of backstage spaces where people can relax from impression management.