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Have You Considered What Privacy Means to You?

If we wish to foster a society where our personal freedoms can thrive, cultivating our understanding of privacy – and what it means to us personally – is foundational. We must examine our own values and comfort levels as they pertain to our personal information so that we may not only articulate our desires, but also support those who will best represent our interests.

Asking the question, “What does privacy mean to you?” is the first step in protecting our personal connection to privacy and discovering our true perspective on privacy. Answering it allows us to choose our leaders, educate a younger generation, and preserve a basic human right.

Why Does Privacy Matter?

Living in the age of oversharing may make it feel like the concept of privacy is passé. There’s a sense that the blurred boundary between an online and offline life means we must consent to living in a permanently public “now.” But embracing what at first blush appears to be an open and ultramodern attitude overlooks how essential privacy is to our psychological health and sense of self.

As the cultural sociologist and writer Tiffany Jenkins says in her short piece, “The unobserved life is essential to human flourishing,”

“Where privacy is as important, but perhaps less obviously so, is in relation to the development of the human person. Privacy allows us to retreat from the world, for a while, to not be ‘on show’ all the time, to take our face off. It is space without scrutiny and immediate judgment in which we can take time out and reflect. Here, we can be vulnerable. Here, we can experiment and try things out. Here, we can make mistakes. We can be ourselves; learning and developing what that means.”

But this is far from a value with merely personal implications. It has profound public implications as well, especially when we bring what we have considered in privacy back to the world:

“A private sphere helps to create the conditions for the development of a reflective, rounded and stronger person and that benefits the public sphere. It’s about more than just being alone, or being left alone, it means we can open the door and reenter the public sphere having thought things through.”

Privacy permits reflection and encourages depth of thought. It is a place we synthesize information and personal opinions. And there are very good reasons why we need that space if we plan to live in the immediate future.

Privacy For Humans Depends Upon Privacy Literacy

We’re well aware how network technology has disrupted and reimagined almost every aspect of our lives. With it has come convenience, connectivity, and new channels for socialization. Yet we’re also anxious about the speed and unknown implications of these changes, and for good reason.

Take, for example, the recent Altimeter Group survey on consumer perceptions of privacy in the Internet of Things. From the introduction to the report:

“Consumers are decidedly anxious about the use and sales of their data, especially in physical environments; At least half of consumers surveyed express extreme discomfort with the use and sale of their data across all realms, from their bodies to public spaces, and everywhere in between. Our research finds a massive gulf between consumer awareness and industry practices when it comes to privacy, one which businesses that wish to effectively apply sensors to their consumer-facing programs must address immediately.”

Privacy expectations in the face of IoT technology is particularly complex because the sensors, devices, and networks around us often gather and transmit information without our knowledge or express consent. While we may assume a base level of privacy, our lack of awareness (and the lack of consistent commercial transparency) can lead to an  erosion of our rights.

If we want to preserve our rights, we need a base level of “privacy literacy” so we may understand and assert our values in this emerging space. This literacy also enables us to support private and governmental leaders who will champion our rights.

Who will these leaders be? Where will they learn to represent our interests? How can our institutions hope to keep pace with the market?

Where Are Tomorrow’s Privacy Professionals Today?

Though the law may lag behind technology at times, there are more courses and certifications focused on privacy than ever before. What was once an underserved niche in the educational world of law and data science is now a hot topic among forward-thinking institutions.

Harvard Law School currently offers “Comparative Online Privacy,” taught by Urs Gasser LL.M. Student interest in the course is high, primarily because of the urgency of the issue. Most telling is the challenge of assembling a reading list for the course. Along with court opinions and law review articles, source material includes “FCC and FTC case memoranda, European Commission reports, technology blog entries, and newspaper stories.”

Other schools, such as Santa Clara University’s Hi-Tech Law Institute, UC Berkeley Law’s Center for Law & Technology, and NYU’s Information Law Institute & Privacy Research Group also provide programs and forums for shaping law and technology leaders.

Privacy issues aren’t strictly under the purview of the law. Data science curriculums are also key to creating the next generation of technology professionals aware of privacy rights and Privacy by Design (PbD) concepts. Carnegie Mellon’s Masters Program takes an interdisciplinary approach to data science, as does UC Berkeley’s School of Information.

You Are Also The Future of Privacy

Industry leaders are hardly the only ones with a role in protecting privacy. You, too, have a choice and a voice. When you can answer the question what privacy means to you, you can envision a world where you can create the terms of your own privacy policy.

How will you enhance your privacy literacy?  How will that impact your personal life as well as society as a whole?

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