Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Many Meanings of Privacy

privacy.jpgI regularly talk about how privacy has many meanings, but haven’t put those in a blog posting. Since this blog has more readers than most of my talks have attendees, I figure it’s a sensible thing to blog about. The point of this list is to illustrate the dramatically different things people mean when they say privacy. (Incidentally, this leads to much angst.) So here’s a partial list. I’ll start with some traditional meanings:

  • Lots of land with trees and shrubbery
  • Curtains & Venetian Blinds
  • Unlisted Phone #s
  • Swiss bank accounts
  • Nudity
  • Gut feelings

Some more modern meanings that people use today:

  • Spam, telemarketers
  • ID theft, CC theft
  • Cookies
  • Total Information Awareness
  • Do Not Call lists
  • Abortion

What cryptographers mean:

  • Unobservability
  • Untracability
  • Cryptography
  • Blinding

What privacy policy experts might mean:

  • Fair Information Practices and Data Protection Laws
  • Right to be left alone
  • Data shadows
  • Informational self-determination
  • “Lie and get away with it”
  • “The Presentation of Self In Everyday Life”
  • “The Unwanted Gaze”
  • “No Place to Hide”
  • “The Digital Person”

These many meanings lead to a lot of misunderstandings. You might also enjoy browsing the photos people have tagged “privacy” on Flickr. Since I value your privacy, I’d love to hear your suggestions for more.

Oh, I’m using privacy in the informational self-determination sense, and asking you to make a choice about exposing your thoughts (in the sense of “Privacy and Social Freedom.”) Wasn’t that obvious?

Finally, the photo titled “‘The pride of youth is in strength and beauty, the pride of old age is in discretion.’ Democritus” is by -ViDa-.

[Update: Having read this, I discovered the bottom bit of Dan Solove’s blog post, “A Taxonomy of Privacy.” [link to no longer works] I hadn’t read to the bottom, because I have the PDF sitting in my queue of things to read. So I was mortified to read:

I suggested that privacy must be understood contextually, and that it consists of a multitude of different yet related things. But I left open a very important question — just what are those different yet related things? My new article, A Taxonomy of Privacy, builds on this argument and provides a taxonomy of what these different yet related things are.


3 comments on "Many Meanings of Privacy"

  • Arthur says:

    Freedom of Speech. Specifically to anonymously make unpopular statements and not fear for your personal safety.

  • You might find my post Four Kinds of Privacy as a more analytical way to divide up the different kinds of privacy you mention.
    I divide them up into “Defensive Privacy”, “Human-Rights Privacy”, “Personal Privacy” and “Contextual Privacy”, but another way to describe them is “Defensive: don’t reveal that which criminals may use to hurt me”, “Human-Rights: don’t let those in power know to much, because someone else may come into power”, “Personal: I want to be left alone”, and “Contextual: I really didn’t want to know that”.

  • beri says:

    What I like about your list, Adam, is that it is written in terms comprehensible to readers like myself who have a general interest in the topic but limited technical skills or technical vocabulary.

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