What is privacy?
Is privacy a tool, a technique or a legal provision? Does privacy mean not sharing anything with anyone?
Although we might think of privacy as a centuries-old concept, it was only the advent of printed newspapers and intrusive journalism that started a debate on the subject. The systematic written discussion of the concept of privacy can be traced to 1890 with Warren and Brandeis’ famous essay in the Harvard Law Review, The right to privacy (Warren and Brandeis, 1890). The essay cited political, social and economic changes that led to a recognition of privacy as the right to be left alone. Since these early debates, privacy has been recognised by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and many other international and regional treaties.
Privacy does not mean deciding not to share any information about yourself
In our everyday lives, to participate in society, to form personal relationships or develop collaborations, we need to disclose information about ourselves. Privacy and disclosure are two opposing forces in a balancing act. To be able to exercise your privacy means to have the ability to decide what you share, to whom and how.
Privacy requirements vary between individuals, because each individual makes a judgement about revealing their information or keeping it private. Privacy is a personal concept that is influenced by individual’s beliefs, opinions and attitudes.
Privacy is also highly contextual. For example, you may be happy sharing information with a group of friends, but may not be happy sharing the same information with work colleagues. In addition, the value an individual places on privacy changes throughout their life.
Privacy has a variety of dimensions including informational, physical and social. Informational privacy refers to control over information. It describes the ability to determine for oneself when, how and to what extent information about oneself is communicated to others (Westin, 1967). This includes both information shared online and offline.
In the next step we will look at how we can categorise personal views on privacy. Don’t forget to click ‘Mark as complete’.
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