Privacy is both a reality and a feeling, not always the same. You can feel private if you don't realize that someone is watching.
#3359 Created 04/26/2013 Updated 04/28/2013
We tried to take apart the concept of privacy, and discovered a snake-ball of related issues, all centering on the individual.
Here are some of the competing issues:
--Privacy is a constructed cultural concept, whose definition changes to accommodate real-world conditions.
--Privacy only exists in the future. Once something is in a record, it is in history history.
--Privacy is a privilege of wealth. Get rich or get over it.
--Privacy and Free Speech are uneasy partners. DJs have no privacy.
--There is no man behind the curtain. You are exposed, but is anyone actually look at you, as an individual?
--How many companies own information about you? Do their property rights trump your personal rights (if any)?
--Who owns the information about the relationship among other bits of information about me?
--Privacy is both a reality and a feeling, not always the same. You can feel private if you don't realize that someone is watching.
--Privacy is bad, because:
----Limits location -based services
----Obstructs audit trails
----hampers shopping, mating, crime
----limits deal opportunities
----decreases safety (traffic cams, neighborhood watch, medical emergency, allergies, alerts, accidents, disasters, etc.)
----hides criminal activity
----hides family, friends
Privacy is good, because:
--obstructs audit trails
--subverts corrupt institutions
--reduces target profile
Another interesting aspect of privacy is the observer/observed binary. It may be true that in order to be hidden from view, you may also lose your view out. The observer is also the observed on the social web; if you do not observe, you cannot be observed.
Is privacy good? How? For that matter, what is privacy? Is it an external condition, or is it an internal perspective? Here are some test questions:
Is privacy only possible for the wealthy?
Is privacy only possible in the future?
Is privacy related to control of information?
Is privacy related to comfort with exposure?
At root, the concept of privacy relates to an individual's ability to control public exposure. That exposure can be physical (visible in public places, public records, interacting in public ways). That exposure can be informational (data about purchases, contributions, memberships, bank accounts, reading habits, browsing data, etc.). That exposure can be emotional (embarrassment, defamation, humiliation, false light, isolation, appropriation).
Common to all is the concept of control. And unspoken in all is the ability to measure a consumer's comfort level and perceptions about privacy. The problem is that privacy -- and legal remedies for invasion of privacy -- are based in the evaluation of human feelings.
There is not external measure for privacy. Two individuals, in the same situation, with the same public exposure, in the same town, with the same resources, can have different perceptions about their privacy, and different emotional reactions of perceived violations of their privacy.
All of this happens, of course, isolated from the actual facts of privacy. Our modern environment depends on people allowing themselves to be visible. Cell phones must be visible to the carrier networks, desktop computers must be visible to the internet, pedestrians must be visible to drivers, and anything that is transmitted electronically is visible to anyone with the technology to receive and decipher. Cameras record our movements on public streets and within buildings. Smart phones track our physical movements, purchases mark our presence in space and time, and smart cars hold the potential to further reveal our actions.
In a very real sense, the only actual privacy one can have is to hide in a closed room with no electronic services, awat from society.
How we feel about privacy, however, is all that matters. If we are comfortable with it – whatever it is – then we’re fine. If we’re not comfortable, then we’re not fine. How we feel will not change the reality, so a lot of attention is given to managing how consumers feel about privacy, rather than actually modifying it.
That’s because our privacy – or lack of it – is valuable to business. Too much privacy would neutralize location based services, obstruct audit trails, hamper electronic shopping, limit opportunities for deals and dealing, decrease safety (traffic, neighborhood watch, medical emergencies, allergic reactions, and more), can contribute to concealing criminal activity, and become a barrier to relationships with family and friends.
Privacy is valuable to individuals for other reasons. Privacy can obscure observation and profiling, decrease interruptions, cover audit trails, and reduce the consumer’s “target profile” to marketers. Privacy can obscure evidence of your relations to other people, to businesses, to political parties. Privacy can protect wealth and property. Privacy can conceal criminal activities.
To have privacy is to observe without being observed.
To lack privacy is to be observed without observing.
Privacy is a feeling, and a belief. It has little structural relationship to the fact of actual exposure, instead being controlled by the perception of exposure. If someone believes that they are in a private position, they will feel private.