Curriculum‎ > ‎Seminars‎ > ‎

Federica Fornaciari Presentation

Privacy is Dead, Long Live Privacy. The Economy of Information in the Digital Age

Federica Fornaciari
Department of Communication

September 24,  2-3pm, SEO 1000

“Privacy is dead” has become a common statement today due to the spread of technologies that have enhanced the possibilities for data collection, aggregation, and diffusion. Databases are potent tools that benefit
private companies and disempower people causing them to lose control over their information (Solove, 2001) and infringing contextual expectations of privacy (Nissembaum, 2004; 2010). The problem of databases is a threefold one: data available on databases risk to become the only relevant information about a subject flattening one’s persona; computers may provide wrong and limitative imagoes and stimulate judgments out of context that hinder one’s dignity and reputation; it is difficult to protect privacy because there are powerful forces behind the use of aggregate information (Solove, 2001; 2005). Economic interests hidden behind information sharing are also fundamental aspects of the digital age (Berger, 2011; Odlyzko, 2003).

This study, informed by frame analysis (Goffman, 1974; Entman, 1993), implements a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) of recent media discourse in the US to investigate the frames used to depict the economy of personal
data, the actors involved, and the values at stake. In the last few years, online corporate managers have claimed the death of privacy, possibly as a way to encourage individuals to keep providing valued private information
that enhances the effectiveness and power of customized marketing (Solove, 2001; 2005). Research, though, has shown that individuals still value privacy as a fundamental aspect of their lives (e.g. Nippert-Eng, 2010)
but they are often unaware of what happens to their information online (Rule, 2007).

In such scenario, the media may act as educators (Chaffee & Frank, 1996; Graber, 1994; Moses, 2007) and help citizens to understand the economic interests embedded in the sharing industry, explain them the mechanisms of
infringements specific of the Information Age, and provide them with privacy management strategies. Even though media discourse around privacy is a fundamental indicator that allows detecting power-relationships and
particular interests that influence media structures, CDA has not been used yet to investigate media discourse on privacy matters. To fill this gap, the current research asks the following research question:

RQ – How did media discourse frame the role of economic interests related to the disclosure of information in the Digital Age?

To respond, I implemented CDA to analyze a saturation sample of articles from the New York Times, focusing on those that tackle economic aspects of privacy. Since it is fundamental to contextualize texts when implementing
CDA (van Dijk, 1997) the passages will be interpreted placing them into the context of the political economy of capitalism keeping in mind that “critical discourse analyzes challenges taken-for-granted assumptions by
putting them into the context of power structures in society” (Fuchs, 2011, p. 10). Very flexible recommendations to conduct the CDA included general guiding questions as, what vocabulary metaphors and catchphrases
do media use when talking about the economy of information? Do media sustain or challenge the dynamics of power? These recommendations were adopted within the framework of contextual integrity (Nissembaum, 2010).


Berger, D. D. (2011). Balancing Consumer Privacy with Behavioral
Targeting.” Santa Clara Computer & High Tech. LJ 27 (2011): 3–445.

Chaffee, S. H., & Frank, S. (1996, July). How Americans get political
information: Print versus broadcast news. The Annals of the American
Academy of Political and Social Science, 546, 48–58.

Entman, R. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm.
Journal of Communication, 43, 51-58.

Fuchs, C. (2011). The Internet & Surveillance. Research Paper Series.

Goffman, E. (1977). Frame analysis: An essay in the organization of
experience. Boston: Northeastern University Press. Chapters 1-2.

Graber, D. A. (Ed.). (1994). Media power in politics (3rd ed.).
Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press.

Moses, M. S. (2007). The media as educators, educational research, and
autonomous deliberation. Peabody Journal of Education, 82(1), 150-165.

Nippert-Eng, C. (2010). Islands of Privacy. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press.

Nissembaum, H. (2004). Privacy as contextual integrity. Washington Law
Review, 79, 119-158.

Nissembaum, H. (2010) Privacy in Context. Technology, Policy, and the
Integrity of Social Life. Stanford: Stanford Law Books.

Odlyzko, A. (2003). Privacy, economics, and price discrimination on the
Internet. In Proceedings of the 5th international conference on Electronic
commerce, 355–366.

Rule, J. B. (2007). Privacy in Peril: How We are Sacrificing a Fundamental
Right in Exchange for Security and Convenience. Oxford University Press,

Solove, D. J. (2001). Privacy and power: Computer databases and metaphors
for information privacy.” Stanford Law Review, 53(6), 1393–1462.

Solove, D. J. (2005). A Taxonomy of Privacy. U. Pa. L. Rev. 154.

vanDijk, T.  (1997). The study of discourse. In Discourse as structure and
process, ed. Treun A. van Dijk, 1-34. London: Sage.