Privacy as Commons Case Evaluation Through the Governing Knowledge Commons Framework

Madelyn Sanfilippo, Brett Frischmann, Katherine Standburg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Conceptualizing privacy as information flow rules-in-use constructed within a commons governance arrangement, we adapt the Governing Knowledge Commons (GKC) framework to study the formal and informal governance of information flows. We incorporate Helen Nissenbaum’s “privacy as contextual integrity” approach, defining privacy in terms of contextually appropriate flows of personal information. While Nissenbaum’s framework treats contextual norms as largely exogenous and emphasizes their normative valence, the GKC framework provides a systematic method to excavate personal information rules-in-use that actually apply in specific situations and interrogate governance mechanisms that shape rules-in-use. The GKC framework thus directs attention beyond information transmission principles to a broader spectrum of rules-in-use for personal information and supports consideration of procedural legitimacy. After discussing how the GKC framework can enrich privacy research, we explore empirical evidence for contextual integrity as governance within the GKC framework through meta-analysis of previous knowledge commons case studies, revealing three governance patterns within the observed rules-in-use for personal information flow. Though constrained by existing literature, our theoretical analysis provides strong justification for a new research agenda using the GKC framework to explore privacy as governance. We conclude by discussing potential implications for policy-makers of viewing privacy through an information governance lens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-166
Number of pages51
JournalJournal of Information Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Case studies
  • Commons governance
  • Contextual integrity
  • Meta-analysis
  • Privacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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