Seda Guerses, Catholic University Leuven


May 23, 2013

Exploring boundary work among computer scientists in the search for “privacy research paradigms”

Since the end of the 60s, computer scientists have engaged in research on privacy and information systems. Over the years, this research has led to a whole palette of “privacy solutions”. These solutions originate from diverse sub-fields of computer science, e.g., security engineering, databases, software engineering, HCI, and artificial intelligence. From a bird’s eye view, all of these researchers are studying privacy. However, a closer look reveals that each community of researchers relies on different, sometimes even conflicting, definitions of privacy, and on a variety of social and technical assumptions. These researchers do have a tradition of assessing the (implicit) definitions and assumptions that underlie the studies in their respective sub-disciplines However, a systematic evaluation of privacy research practice across the different computer science communities is so far absent.

During my talk, I hope to contribute to closing this research gap by presenting the preliminary results of an empirical study of privacy research in computer science. These initial results are based on 8 of the 30 interviews I conducted with privacy researchers from the USA. The focus of the study is on the different notions of privacy that these US based privacy researchers employ, as well as on the dominant worldviews that inform their practice. I use grounded theory to analyze the interviews in order to identify what the researchers demarcate as their topic of research in privacy. I then study how that boundary work affects what counts as “worthwhile problems”, “acceptable scientific evidence” and “potential privacy solutions”. Based on these preliminary analyses, I explore whether some of these demarcations may be useful in identifying different `privacy research paradigms’ in computer science.

As this is work in progress, I also hope that the presentation will attract your comments and insights on both the content and the methodology of the study.

(Presentation slides)


Seda Gürses is a post-doctoral researcher at COSIC (Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography), in the Department of Electrical Engineering of the KU Leuven and currently a visiting researcher at the e-Humanities group collaborating with Prof. Sally Wyatt on her study of privacy research paradigms in computer science. Seda received her Master degree in Computer Science at the Humboldt University Berlin (Germany), and her PhD at the Department of Computer Science at the KU Leuven. Her research interests are topics at the crossing of privacy technologies, surveillance studies and requirements engineering. She is currently also the coordinator of the project SPION (Security and Privacy in Online Social Networks [1]), funded by the Agency for Innovation in Science and Technology (IWT). The objective of the project is to explore interdisciplinary approaches to addressing privacy and security issues in online social networks while being aware of processes of user responsibilization.