What does privacy mean?

But I have nothing to hide.

It’s a sentiment that drives privacy advocates crazy and is a huge barrier that stops a lot of people from engaging with our movement. Here’s the thing though: we, — advocates of privacy — are the ones that created this problem.

Most of us talk about being for privacy, openness and transparency all in the same breath. We assume most people understand that the concept of privacy is meant to apply to individuals while transparency and openness is meant to apply to institutions. I don’t think most people instinctively understand that distinction.

My hypothesis is that most people innately understand the value of transparency because of their experiences witnessing government scandals or coverups, a classic example being around ‘weapons of mass destruction.’

The problem with the classic refrain ‘I have nothing to hide’ is that people apply the value of transparency to individuals and as a result ‘having nothing to hide’ becomes a virtue.

Here’s where things get even harder: we need to get better at explaining why privacy is important to individuals. The arguments, including ‘it just is’ or ‘slippery slopes’ or ‘what if everyone could see everything’ aren’t working and in some ways reinforce the frame of ‘I have nothing to hide.’

That’s why I think it’s critical that we start talking about privacy in a way that is consistent with the concepts of openness and transparency but that can be applied to individuals and not institutions.  That is the idea that privacy helps build authenticity.

None of us are cardboard cutouts — we have contradictions, failings, and raw moments that are what make us fundamentally human. Privacy safeguards that. It ensures that you can separate challenging personal moments from your work life, so that you can develop ideas without fear. Privacy enables you to experiment with contrarian ideas when you’re in your teens that help shape your politics without those ideas defining who you are in your 50s.

We put this theory into practice with the first video of Mozilla’s encryption campaign. We — reframed privacy to be about authenticity — or in other words: letting you be you.

Love or hate the video, it’s a first step in a longer conversation about why privacy is something that sets us free. Free from a world where no one can say anything other than tested sound bites and inane comments. Privacy is important because it helps us evolve as individuals, to reflect and to be authentic — and that is crucial in our increasingly digital world.

1 response

  1. Evan Peters wrote on :

    I agree with “Privacy is important because it helps us evolve as individuals, to reflect and to be authentic”