Discourses around privacy

In a seminar today we were asked where we would put ourselves on a scale from 0-10 where private is 0 and open is 10. Is this even the right scale to be talking about and through? I wonder whether we are using appropriate language to critically talk about what we mean by privacy in the post-digital age…

Privacy is a term that is politically loaded and its understanding is often misconstrued as secrecy. Secrecy is about withholding or ‘closing’ down information, whereas privacy is about controlling the environment in which information is being shared so that it is not circulated in unintended ways. Furthermore, when considering open rhetoric, it is often with reference to transparency, which again is arguably antithetical to secrecy. Openness however, also refers to ownership and collaboration (Shah, 2013) of which I am also I big advocate of.

I say this because I actually consider myself to be quite ‘open’: I am usually happy to transparently share information with people I trust. My IBD is not a secret, but there are some instances in which I just will not share my sensitive information (symptoms, medication and so on): even if I trust the person, I may not trust the infrastructure or environment. So I really cannot put myself on an overall scale: I am open (transparent, collaborative) and I take ownership of the control of my data and metadata. I will take more controlling measures over things that I deem personal and sensitive, than what information I am happy to share publicly.

So I wonder whether the scale should be redefined as a scale of control rather than private or open. Any thoughts?


3 comments on “Discourses around privacyAdd yours →

  1. Good question, Kate. This contextualizes something you said to me earlier on email and something I was talking about today.
    I think in a sense…ummm well. Ok. I like the distinction of “control” over what we keep private or public. Isn’t public the opposite of private? And closed the opposite of open? But being open or public about ONE thing need not preclude some need for privacy or closedness about another in another context. I do see your point about not necessarily putting “open” on one end of spectrum and “private” on the other. They may be two different questions. Depending.
    So what I was talking about recently is someone asked me if my univ ever censors what I can write and I said, “well I don’t write anything political so why would they?” and that’s really me self-censoring to avoid unnecessarily putting myself at risk. I choose for my activism to be elsewhere. So my political views are pretty private.
    I also write a lot about parenting, openly, even IVF and breastfeeding but I don’t like having my child’s name and photos on my blog or such. But she’s on YouTube because of vconnecting and she pops in sometimes.
    Thinking about my profile photos. My Twitter profile is open about my religion but my gravatar (half face, wool cap) doesn’t show it and those are intentional choices. So yes. Openness as a stance towards intellectual networking and learning does not mean you choose to never have any part of yourself private. That makes no sense and it’s a fake dichotomy because they’re different planes. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Maha. It is absolutely contextual, right. And I think we have to think about what it means to be public and be in public. So we can have private conversations in public places like in a crowded street with lots of passers by – danah boyd talks about this in terms of how teens negotiate private matters in online publics. But to have us think about all our (in this case) online behaviour is just not doable and as much as people say they don’t, we all do have something we want to hide, not because we have done something wrong, but that we don’t want some things to be seen. Mhmmm. 🙂

      1. Well and also I write a lot about how relationships between people (even online) are actually built in the private spaces. You don’t truly become friends with someone by interacting with them on Twitter. You become friends via DM or email or whatever. When you’re not performing your relationship to an audience. but that’s a different angle altogether. Not related to ownership and such

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *