Why are there different forms of digital identity?


The conference Figurations (part of the wonderful People like You project) was the opportunity to start a writing project with Oskar Gstrein, a colleague at Campus Fryslan and member of the Data Research Centre, where digital identity is one of our main themes. Oskar presented our paper this week at Goldsmith, London.

In this project, we take a look at several existing concepts that address the division of private and public space, and discuss how these definitions affect the figuration of person(s) in and out of data.[1] We contrast the concept of data subject whose data is being “protected” (the basis of the GDPR) with other approaches, including the German concept of informational self-determination, or the South American “habeas data” doctrine. We explore the tensions between considering the different societal and cultural traditions from which these concepts arise, the conceptualization of privacy as a universal right, the (seemingly?) global nature of digital platforms,[2] and the perennial vision of the digital as a universal space of data.

These considerations lead us to reflect on the mutual adjustments that are ongoing: as we move in/out of data and as the digital becomes an inherent part of our identity, we both change our understanding of person to be able to effectively address privacy, and adjust our concept of privacy to address the concept of personhood.

To begin to map out these relations, we connect our analysis of forms of privacy to specific instances of datafication, so that particular instances ‘stand in’ as exemplars of different approaches and of how legal frameworks and personhood intersect.

[1] Hildebrandt, Privacy as Protection of the Incomputable Self: From Agnostic to Agonistic Machine Learning, Theoretical Inquiries in Law, Volume 20, Issue 1, Pages 83–121, doi: 10.1515/til-2019-0004.

[2] Martel, Smart – Enquête sur les Internets, Stock 2014.

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