Do Privacy and Privilege Converge? Thoughts on the Coming Storm of Privilege-Based Privacy Affordance

23 Pages Posted: 9 May 2017 Last revised: 11 May 2017

See all articles by Michael Katell

Michael Katell

The Alan Turing Institute Public Policy Programme

Date Written: July 15, 2015


The extraordinary capabilities of networked information systems increase and amplify social, political and economic inequities by collecting damning information about people and groups, permanently storing it, and making it available for replication and ongoing analytics. Information systems and data sets reflect the biases of the people who create them, and as such, are inscribed with their socio-cultural baggage and worldviews. The people most harmed by information systems are those with the least social power, or “privilege,” because their hardships are meticulously documented and judged by state and commercial surveillant assemblages and associated scoring and profiling systems. Those with privilege experience fewer harms and enjoy a range of digital affordances to enhance and preserve their social and economic power. States of privilege are reified and social divides worsened by information technology that disadvantages “unprivileged” people, and contributes to their continued marginalization, while sheltering and entrenching the socially dominant.

In this paper I argue that ICT capabilities, political trends, and market forces working together amplify preexisting inequalities through the enablement of selective and discriminatory privacy invasion. These trends are expressed through the previously impossible depth, granularity, and ubiquity of commercial and state surveillance, supported by immense computing power and widespread technology adoption. Those with greater social power (“privilege”) are better positioned to avoid unwanted surveillance and are the likely beneficiaries of the tracking and sorting of those with less privilege. “Weblining,” or the offering/withholding of services and opportunities based on discriminatory user profiling, is just one increasingly evident artifact. Through the availability of “boutique” data tools and services, and the power of linked data and algorithmic processing, power and privilege are not merely transferred to the online/networked world, they are reified and amplified in ways that increase existing inequalities, signifying deeper social divisions and greater injustices in the years to come.

Keywords: privacy, surveillance, privilege

Suggested Citation

Katell, Michael, Do Privacy and Privilege Converge? Thoughts on the Coming Storm of Privilege-Based Privacy Affordance (July 15, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Katell (Contact Author)

The Alan Turing Institute Public Policy Programme ( email )

British Library
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United Kingdom

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