General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Why do people want privacy?

Asked by wundayatta (58525points) May 24th, 2011

What kinds of things do you keep private? Why do you keep those things private? I.e., how do you draw the line beyond which you feel it is necessary to keep something private?

The “right” to privacy is a big deal in the United States. Why is it so important? What is it, really? What do people get out of privacy? Is privacy different from hiding?

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37 Answers

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SpatzieLover's avatar

IMO, Privacy = the right to have some things be just yours alone. Why is it a big deal? I certainly don’t want to share everything with someone else.

I like time alone, time to sit with my thoughts, and the ability to know I can choose what I share.

Jude's avatar

I don’t trust the freaks out there.

Oh, and my job.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I keep some information private because:
* It is no one else’s business, like financial matters
* It might elicit judgement from others, like my stance on religion or who I voted for in the last election
* Some people just don’t want to hear the banal report on what I did over the weekend
* It could cause more harm than help

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

GQ. I think it’s because they don’t feel comfortable doing what they want to do in front of everyone. Privacy is freedom to be how we actually are, away from norms of things ‘unladylike’.

Pandora's avatar

Depends on what kind of privacy are you talking about. I like certain details kept private. My bank account, my credit cards, my full name, my social securtiy, my phone number and my address and lastly my date of birth. Not because I want to hide anything as much as I don’t want the wrong people to get a hold of my information and sell it or give it to crimminals.
Then there is the privacy that I just feel isn’t anyone elses business. My finances, my purchases and my marriage and my childrens business.
Now as for privacy of my inner thoughts. That just falls under nobody elses business. Not all inner thoughts are harmless. Only harmless because you don’t voice them out. But sometimes a situation will make you think a certain way that you normally would not and you will change your mine. Keeping it private allows you to change your mind without any consequences.
Example. You see a really hot guy and you think for a moment how fun an affair may be. Do you tell your significant other? Why would you. You just hurt their feelings for something you have no intentions of acting upon. I use to fantisize about guys all the time when I was single. But in my fantasy it was always a one night stand. But I’m not or ever will be the one night stand kind of girl. The reality of who I am, is I need a real relationship, way before I could ever get naked in front of someone else.
Not everything we think or do is anyone elses business. Why would someone want to know all my secrets anyway. I certainly don’t want to know all their secrets.
Somethings are only necessary to reveal if what you did, or do can cause someone else some harm in the long run. Otherwise, there is no harm in not revealing all.

King_Pariah's avatar

Personally, there are things I want to keep to myself, times I want to be by myself with the knowledge that no one is looking or listening, and sometimes this stallion needs a break.

SpatzieLover's avatar

Another thought: The “right” to privacy is a big deal in the United States. Why is it so important?

I have known people that have been harassed by “Peeping Toms”. It’s important to be able to use your bathroom privately, without someone being able to video you & put your most intimate moments on YouTube for all to see.

Its important here in the USA because we’ve made it be so, through legislation. Personally, I feel the legislation could be stricter, especially when it comes to children and their right to privacy.

thorninmud's avatar

For me, privacy isn’t so much about concealment as it is about repose. Social relationships are work. We expend energy maintaining our public persona, tending the impressions we make on others, holding up our end of the conversation, taking care not to offend, living up to expectations, etc.

Even if you don’t obsess about that kind of stuff, being a functional member of society requires participating in this intricate role-playing. There’s a kind of beauty to it, but it’s tiring. We need times and places where we can take a break from it. It feels great to not have the least care for how I’m being seen or what others are expecting of me. After some downtime, I’m better able to be my public self again.

Vunessuh's avatar

Privacy helps people maintain their individuality free of judgment and criticism from the outside world, as well as allows us to practice introspection for our own personal growth. It allows you to see yourself more clearly, build and sustain a sense of self and therefore preserve a sense of identity when you are amongst others and/or without privacy.
Maintaining privacy doesn’t automatically mean you have secrets or are hiding or doing anything wrong. Going to the bathroom and making love and seeking out privacy for both doesn’t mean you are deliberately hiding anything.
I don’t believe privacy is a want. I believe it is a basic human need. Lack of privacy is lack of freedom.

Identity fraud is also a bitch to deal with.

YARNLADY's avatar

That is a very good question. Occasionally, I like to be alone for the quiet and relaxation, but for the most part I think privacy is way overrated.

Blueroses's avatar

There has to be some mystery to keep life and relationships interesting. There’s nothing more socially uncomfortable for me than just meeting a person who immediately hands out too much information. It’s a cocktail party, FFS, I don’t want to hear about the color and consistency of your bowel movements or the interesting people you met in prison.

It’s those “open book” folks whom I least trust. You just know you couldn’t tell them anything in confidence.

Stinley's avatar

I think it depends on your personality, some people are naturally more reticent than others. Open people make a big deal out of this – ‘he’s so secretive’ – but private people just can’t see why someone would want to know their inner thoughts.

Zaku's avatar

One reason, is crazy abusive controlling assholes, many of whom are parents.
Many others are in government or business (for example, as employers).
Others are socialites, who tend to be afraid of becoming social outcasts, and who behave sociopathically towards others, for example by gossiping and spreading rumors, creating negative opinions of others so those people will be the targets of the ridicule they are afraid of receiving themselves.
All of the above crazy people will use and abuse information in a wide range of ways, which they cannot do effectively if they do not have access to information.
Those sorts of people are not only the extreme abusive assholes, or the overtly extreme abusive assholes – there are also merely annoying people, subtle abusers, and subtly annoying people, but all of them are less effective at abusing you if they don’t know, say, whom you have a crush on, when you stopped wetting your bed, that you missed paying your latest bill, that you call your lover Snookums, etc.

There are also organizations that systematically victimize others based on what information they have about you. For example, insurance companies, advertisers, police departments, mafias.

Apart from that entire world of information abuse, there is also the issue of mental well being. Without going into great detail, I think people are happier if they have some space, physical, conversational, behavioral and otherwise, which is all theirs. i.e. Privacy. Deny privacy, and you oppress the mind and spirit.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Privacy is simply setting boundaries. People have a right, and a desire, to set boundaries. If I’m keeping something private, what I’m really saying is “You do not have a right to know about this, it is not any of your business.”

Haleth's avatar

In the end it boils down to being free of judgment from others. Most of the things people judge others for are things everyone does. Lots of people watch porn, but most people don’t talk about it in public. Everybody farts, but it’s not ok to do it in a social situation.

Or, like @thorninmud said, privacy means taking a break from social interactions. Even with people I know well, I usually try and show them the “best” side of myself. There are times in a close relationship where that’s not the case, like friends supporting each other during a breakup.

Sunny2's avatar

I think it’s to preserve one’s individuality. There is some comfort in belonging to a group, but the basic self comfort is your privacy. I don’t need anyone to know of my bad habits or what I think about any subject. That information is mine to disclose as I wish. The government has a right to know some information, that others are not privy to, for the purpose of maintaining the country’s equilibrium. Who am I? A combination of my public persona and my private person. And the way I am perceived by others, which I may or may not know.

LuckyGuy's avatar

There are quite few things I keep private:.

1) Sex. Even though my “kids” are 28 and 30, I’m pretty sure they think theirs were virgin births. At least that’s what we’ve told them. ~ Is there anyone who doesn’t get queasy when they think of their parents doing the nasty?
2) Bodily functions. No one needs to know, nor should they be exposed to, my bathroom habits.
3) Financial information. Unless I have asked you for money or we are sharing an account and liabilities, my finances are private.
4) Some work information is private.
5) I have some private friends. It is an important outlet and release.

I can think of others but they’re private. ;-)

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MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@worriedguy I’m sure my parents have sex only the three times – me, my sister, and the time I walked in on them.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs Actually they only did it twice. I’m pretty sure yours was a virgin birth.

Did you have to blind yourself after being exposed to such a horrific scene?

@noelleptc Absolutely!

suzanna28's avatar

Why are some people nosy ?

dxs's avatar

I need privacy. I grew up and still am with little to no friends, so I have learned to be lonely. I like it; I enjoy the silence. It helps me concentrate on whatever I am doing. Unfortunately the area where I live isn’t too quiet, but it’s good enough for me.

wundayatta's avatar

There are conditions, I believe, where privacy can hurt us. Often times we keep our shames private. Why? Presumably because we are afraid that if we come out with them, people will shun us.

A couple of big examples are homosexuality and mental illness. For ages, and still, today, many gay men and lesbian women have kept their homosexuality a secret because they did not want to be discriminated against. People with mental illness also may want to keep it a secret because of fear of how people will treat them if they knew.

Some people may be of a minority group, but look like a member of the majority, and they have to face the decision to “pass” or not. Light skinned blacks can pass, and many Jews, including my Grandmother, didn’t want it known they were Jewish. They wanted to assimilate. And in my Grandmother’s case, she wanted to be allowed to join the San Francisco Yacht Club.

So many shames because of prejudices, so people keep their shames private. Yet, if everyone were to come out, it might be clear how many people have, say, mental illness, and it would become much more difficult to discriminate against them. They say one in five people has mental illness. That would mean that someone in almost every family suffers from it.

Another shame is cheating. Most people in society look down on cheating as the worst thing in the world. Yet, according to data someone here showed us recently, 69% of men cheat on their SO and 50% of women do it. If that’s true, a majority of people cheat. There are a higher proportion of cheaters in our society than there are of mentally ill. But I don’t see any movement for cheaters to come out of the closet. Instead, everyone looks at exposed cheaters with shock and disgust. Well, a whole hell of a lot of those people have to be hypocritical if those data are true.

But we keep many of these things private. What if people didn’t keep those things private? What if we found out how many people engage in behaviors we believe we’re not supposed to? Homosexuality is gaining greater acceptance, and they are a smaller part of society than the mentally ill and the corps of the unfaithful.

If people came out, there can be a societal conversation about the things they hide for fear of being shamed and worse. I must have those stats wrong. It seems impossible for half of women to be unfaithful. Maybe someone could find that question and the data source there.

In any case, it seems to me that in some cases, we are not well served by the desire for protective privacy. Sure, it makes sense to protect yourself, but if people knew how many there were, it would become a great deal harder to shame them, I think.

dxs's avatar

@wundayatta perhaps Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I hear too that people can go insane without human contact.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta A statistic saying it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not bad. If a statistic said that 98% of people will murder a hooker and bury her in the backyard, would it be ok to do all of a sudden? At least 1 in 6 women will be raped, and 1 in 3 will get breast cancer, that doesn’t mean every time it happens to someone we treat it like McDonald’s gave them the wrong order and it’s no big thing.

I think you’re missing a key component of wanting privacy vs not being allowed to share something should you so desire – that when you want privacy, it’s on your terms. For example, let’s take my grades for the last semester – they’re private, mostly. They’re none of your damn business, and you cannot find them out from the school should you so desire – there are even laws ensuring my grades’ privacy. But should I feel like sharing them with you, I have that ability to – when it’s on my terms, and my say-so. It would be a problem if I wasn’t allowed to share it with you, as is the case for your homosexual and mental disorders examples, but that’s not the case with the fight for the right to privacy. The fight is about having each person be in charge of what they, individually, disclose, and not have it be decided either way by another person. It’s really a fight for people to have control over their own lives.

josie's avatar

We are all enclosed within our own skin. No matter how hard we try, or what fantasies we entertain, or wishes that we make, we can not escape the fact that we are physically isolated.
A desire for privacy is nothing more than an objective recognition of the metaphysical fact that you are your own personal self.

wundayatta's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs I’m not suggesting anyone should be forced to disclose anything. I’m saying that I think these are cases where the notion of privacy hurts people. Because we keep it all private, we have no idea how prevalent it is. If 98% of the people murder hookers, I’d like to know that. We are a hooker murder society. This is an issue I’d like us to deal with.

Of course, that’s an absurd example. The examples I provided are cases where people engage in behavior that usually does not physically harm others. Sure, a very small number of mentally sometimes go on killing sprees, but that is, by far, the exception. While cheating may cause mental harm to others, it rarely causes physical harm. Crimes of passion are there, but only a very small portion of people who have been cheated on kill their partners.

I think it would be useful to know how prevalent many of these behaviors are. I think that privacy can keep people shamed for things that it probably isn’t useful to shame them for. Shame is a bad and ineffective way of trying to coerce people into acceptable behavior. There are other, more effective approaches, but if people are too shamed to let go of their privacy, nothing will change, and many people who don’t really deserve it will continue to be hurt by oppressive social mores.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@wundayatta Let’s not discount emotional harm like it’s not as big a deal as physical harm. Cheating can cause severe emotional trauma, and I for one would rather deal with many a physical wound than be cheated on by someone. Remember: there are things far worse than death.
I think knowing that something is common or prevalent doesn’t really go as far as you might think in making something more acceptable. Poor people drastically outnumber rich people, and everyone knows this, and yet being poor is bad and being rich is good. Even if something is really common, using something’s ubiquitous quality as a “see, it’s not that bad” presupposes that one thinks the world isn’t really that bad, that people don’t suck, that life is not suffering.

lillycoyote's avatar

I am kind of a private person so the question itself seems a bit crazy, why wouldn’t people want privacy? I was also raised to believe that there are certain things that go on in other people’s lives that are simply none of my business and things that go on in my life, my family’s life, that are none of anyone else’s business. It seems obvious to me, a simple matter of fact. But that being said, what rational explanation do I have for it? I don’t really know. I will have to ponder that and if I come up with anything other than some things are just nobody else’s business I will get back to you.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@lillycoyote See, I was raised in a very traditional WASP family, with tons of “don’t share that” and “family matter” and whatnot. Unfortunately, I didn’t get privacy from my parents, so privacy as an issue (both abstract and concrete) has become very important to me – and figuring out what I need to be private, what I think should be and stay private for all/most people, and what’s actually appropriate to share has been quite the journey for me.

Jaxk's avatar

A couple of points. First, I don’t want to know your toilet habits or sexual habits. And I certainly don’t want to know if your cheating on your spouse. These kinds of things can only deteriorate a relationship. I had a guy tell me at a party, that he used both sides of a sheet a sheet of toilet paper to save on paper. I didn’t want to know that. It will come as no surprise, that I didn’t shake his hand.

What goes on in Vegas, should stay in Vegas.

wundayatta's avatar

@lillycoyote Saying that something is nobody’s business begs the question. Why aren’t they anyone else’s business? Is the presumption that something is private until it becomes someone else’s business? At what point does a formerly private activity become someone else’s business? Why do we presume privacy at all? We might as well presume everything is public until it falls below the level of interest of the public. Where is that point?

laureth's avatar

People do not need to know things that:

1. Might be embarrassing to me.
2. Might make them uncomfortable (TMI)
3. That they can use against me
4. That will change their opinion of me, usually for the worse
5. That I don’t want used for marketing purposes
6. That might cause jealousy
7. That I don’t want them to think about when we interact (“Can’t un-see!”)
8. That might overly amuse them
9. When what I say is different from what I do, as happens sometimes
10. Whatever I do when I relax, unless I involve them. No one wants to feel constantly onstage, compelled to perform for others.

In general, knowledge about someone else can change the social dynamics of any given situation. (We are, after all, social creatures, wired for gossip.) There is also a psychological need for privacy, which I think relates to control – the need to control one’s life, or at least what one can about the situation. It’s a way of asserting one’s own identity, drawing a line between Me and You.

Also, I’m quite an introvert. My alone (private) time is when I recharge the batteries, so to speak. Without it, I go a little nuts. I can understand why an extrovert, who recharges by interacting with others, might feel differently.

wundayatta's avatar

Now THAT, dear @laureth, is what I call an ANSWER!!!

Thank you and well done!

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laureth's avatar

I found this article today and thought of this question. :)

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