About privacy and secrets

In the last days, I've seen that some people conflate privacy with secrecy. "If you care so little about your privacy, give me your credit card and bank account numbers," they say. However, it is not true that privacy and secrecy are the same thing, or even remotely related. There are many things that are secret but not private, and many things that are private but not secret.

Your credit card number is a good example of that. It is secret (or rather, a semi-secret) because a bad person with access to it might use it to defraud you. However, it is not private: if it were published in the NY Times' front page, it would be an inconvenience, not an embarrassment for you.

Governments also hold many secrets, so important they call them “State Secrets”. Yet, when the ACTA draft was leaked last month, no Government's privacy was breached. Only, probably, some state secrets laws.

As for privacy without secrecy, think about this: if you are in a restaurant and you go to the bathroom, everybody has a very good idea of what you are going to do, so it can hardly be a secret. But, even if everybody can imagine what you do in there, I'm sure you wouldn't like them to actually see it.

Another example: as I type this, I'm at home, sitting in my sofa, with the computer on my lap. If cannot be a secret, as I have just revealed it. I'm not doing anything particularly naughty or embarrassing; I'm just sitting here, typing. And, all the same, if someone were to come and look into a window, and see me sitting in the sofa, and shout out “hey guys, he's really sitting there typing, as he said in his weblog post”, I would consider it an invasion of my privacy.

And that, my friends, is why privacy is not equal to secrecy.