What kinds of things are you comfortable sharing? Your “Interests” and favorite “Quotations” on Facebook – many people are. Your professional profile on Linkedin – absolutely. Your personal financial documents and bill statements – maybe not. Ultimately, everyone has a different take on what they think should be private.
With all the different possible circumstances, perhaps we shouldn’t base our definition of privacy on the convention arguments between private and public; personal and collective; protected and unprotected. But how should we be approaching the idea of privacy? In this day and age when the advent of the internet has allowed unthinkable expanses of information to be available at the click of a mouse, how should privacy be defined -- from both political and moral standpoints?
In an interview with Concurring Opinions, Helen Nissenbaum, author of Privacy in Context, Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life, sheds light on this very question. Nissenbaum posits that instead of focusing on a public/private distinction, we should focus on what particular constraints should be placed on any information in any particular situation. So rather than place info into one of two categories, we would decide how much regulation, if any, that particular information should have in context.
So, when we join online communities like Facebook and Linkedin, we allow a certain amount of personal information to be accessible to others and we decide just how much we’d like them to see. However, when we sign up for online banking, we expect that all of the information we enter is protected and unseen by others. It’s not a simple matter of private vs. public anymore. With so many possible ways to share information, it seems like a two-category system just won’t work. While the amount of information flowing through our world increases daily, a look at privacy in its various contexts may be just what we need to sort it out.