The problem with Privacy

The problem with ‘privacy’ is that no one can settle on a universal definition; perhaps because everyone is chasing the wrong kind of definition?

The problem for privacy is that so many are trying to find a way to engineer it out of their equations. Trying to define privacy either to constrain it, or to write it off entirely. It is treated like an unwelcome guest, or a bothersome interloper, or worse – an impediment to ‘progress’ or ‘innovation’, where personal profit is substituted for everything else.

In contrast ‘security’, is generally understood to be a good thing, or at least necessary.

Privacy often cast as – treated as – an impediment to security: “you’re hiding something you don’t want me to see” or “if I can’t see what you’re doing, I can’t see what ‘the bad guys’ are doing”. (“please make my job ‘easier’, i don’t care about you anyway”)

Privacy is a social experience. Wishing it away doesn’t work. Designing social tools that exclude or constrain it might.


2 thoughts on “The problem with Privacy

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  1. It seems to me that there are two very different ways of defining privacy. Formal government definitions (eg OECD) look at issues of collection, retention and use. They are concerned about organised collection by governments and other organisations. You can see this definition reflected in most privacy policies.

    Jonathan Zittrain, in the Privacy 2.0 chapter of The Future of the Internet, points out that that definition, while valid, has been superseded by social media. We are all collectors of private information now.

    dinah boyd’s work points to a different type of definition, one that is cultural, personal and changeable. You see this sort of definition embodied in the plethora of different Privacy Enhancing Technologies that are available. These two definitions aren’t contradictory – they come from different worlds.

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