Privacy is the subjective condition a person experiences when two factors are in place. First, he or she
must have the power to control information about him- or herself. Second, he or she must exercise that
control consistent with his or her interests and values.
The first factor goes to the existence of choice — the legal power to control the release of
information — not how pleasant the choice is. In the commercial world, people almost always have the
ability to control information about themselves. By absenting themselves from commercial transactions,
they can decide absolutely who receives information about them. This satisfies the first factor.
Exercising control of information — the second factor that delivers privacy — is difficult in many
commercial marketplaces. Many consumers are unaware of how the Information Economy works, and the fact
that they are a part of it. Only consumer education will deliver them from this state. Only educated,
empowered, and responsible consumers can — by bringing businesses to heel.
For consumers with the highest sensitivity to disclosure of information, companies still rarely offer
an appropriate range of information practices. These unsatisfactory choices make the second factor in
privacy protection hard for some people to achieve. Other consumers may have a higher tolerance for
information sharing or they may have senses of privacy that point toward information not touched by
commerce. Their privacy may be entirely unaffected by even the broadest commercial information sharing.
There is no question that protecting privacy in the commercial world can be hard. It is important to
note, however, that protecting privacy from government is often impossible. When citizens apply for
licenses or permits, fill out forms for regulators, or prepare tax returns, they do not have the power
to control what information they share, or how it may be used or shared again. They must submit information
that the government requires. The first factor in privacy protection — power to control personal
information — is absent. Privacy from government is a categorically different
problem from privacy in the private sector.