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Privacy (from Latin: privatus “separated from the rest, deprived of something, esp. office, participation in the government”, from privo “to deprive”) is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals, but share basic common themes. Privacy is sometimes related to anonymity, the wish to remain unnoticed or unidentified in the public realm. When something is private to a person, it usually means there is something within them that is considered inherently special or personally sensitive. The degree to which private information is exposed therefore depends on how the public will receive this information, which differs between places and over time. Privacy partially intersects security, including for instance the concepts of appropriate use, as well as protection, of information. Privacy may also take the form of bodily integrity.
The right not to be subjected to unsanctioned invasion of privacy by the government, corporations or individuals is part of many countries’ privacy laws, and in some cases, constitutions. Almost all countries have laws which in some way limit privacy; an example of this would be law concerning taxation, which normally require the sharing of information about personal income or earnings. In some countries individual privacy may conflict with freedom of speech laws and some laws may require public disclosure of information which would be considered private in other countries and cultures. Privacy may be voluntarily sacrificed, normally in exchange for perceived benefits and very often with specific dangers and losses, although this is a very strategic view of human relationships. Academics who are economists, evolutionary theorists, and research psychologists describe revealing privacy as a ‘voluntary sacrifice’, for instance by willing participants in sweepstakes or competitions. In the business world, a person may volunteer personal details (often for advertising purposes) in order to gamble on winning a prize. Personal information which is voluntarily shared but subsequently stolen or misused can lead to identity theft.
Privacy, as the term is generally understood in the West, is not a universal concept and remained virtually unknown in some cultures until recent times. Most cultures, however, recognize the ability of individuals to withhold certain parts of their personal information from wider society – a figleaf over the genitals being an ancient example.
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