"As privacy issues have gained social salience, entrepreneurs have begun to offer privacy enhancing technologies (PETs) and the U.S. has begun to enact privacy legislation.
But "privacy" is an ambiguous notion. In the liberal tradition, it is an individualistic value protecting citizens from intrusion into a realm of autonomy. A feminist critique suggests that the social utility of privacy is to exclude certain issues from the public realm. Sociologists suggest that privacy is about identity management, while political economists suggest that the most salient privacy issue is the use of personal information to normalize and rationalize populations according to the needs of capital.
While PETs have been developed for use by individual consumers, recently developers are focusing on the business to business market, where demand is stoked by the existence of new privacy regulations. These new laws tend to operationalize privacy in terms of "personally identifiable information." The new generation of PETs reflect and reify that definition. This, in turn, has implications for the everyday understandings of privacy and the constitution of identity and social life.
In particular, this socio-technical practice may strengthen the ability of data holders to rationalize populations and create self-serving social categories. At the same time, they may permit individuals to negotiate these categories outside of panoptic vision. They may also encourage public discussion and awareness of these created social categories."