Four Privacy Myths

Privacy and Security and Internet

Article Snapshot


Neil Richards


Working paper, 2014


Some commentators claim that privacy is a thing of the past. However, privacy is more important than ever, because of new information technologies and surveillance. Privacy is best defined as a system of rules for enabling people to manage personal information.

Policy Relevance

Privacy is crucial to civil liberties. Businesses can earn consumers’ trust by protecting privacy.

Main Points

  • Discussions of privacy often mention four privacy myths, as follows:
    • Privacy is dead;
    • People, especially young people, do not care about privacy;
    • People with nothing to hide have nothing to fear;
    • Privacy is bad for business.
  • As during Watergate, privacy is in crisis; private and public entities process vast amounts of personal information, enabled by new technologies like the Web, smartphones, and CCTV.
  • Privacy is more important than ever; the idea that privacy is dead is a myth.
    • Most traditionally private information is still private, such as medical information.
    • Even Facebook and the NSA want their own internal affairs to be private.
    • The key issue is not what data is private, but what rules we use to manage information.
  • People do not always act like they care about privacy, but this impression is misleading:
    • Many wrongly believe that if a site posts a privacy policy, it will not share their information.
    • People find it bewildering to manage their information online.
  • Young people care about privacy from authority figures like teachers, and are sophisticated users of privacy settings.
  • Everyone wants to keep some things private, such as their sexual conduct or controversial intellectual ideas.
    • Data can be used to manipulate or blackmail information subjects, or for discrimination.
    • Privacy should not be defined as the need to keep bad deeds secret.
  • Some say that privacy is bad for business, because free Internet content and apps is funded by advertising, which uses consumer data.
    • This content is not really “free;” data is valuable, and loss of privacy has costs for users.
    • Protecting privacy benefits businesses by increasing consumers’ trust, just as confidentiality increases our trust in lawyers and doctors.


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