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Home > Privacy Fundamentals > What is Privacy? > Privacilla's Two-Part Definition of Privacy

Privacilla's Two-Part Definition of Privacy

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.


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[updated 02/27/03]

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