Privacy is The New Luxury Good

We’ve entered the Connected Age. Internet growth and the influx of connected devices throughout the world, has put individual privacy at risk.

“We’ve lost control of our personal data…As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realize if we had direct control over this data, and chose when and with whom to share it…it’s easy to see the harm that can be caused…” Sir Tim Berners-Lee (2017)

However, they have also opened up a wealth of new opportunity.

The level of digital and physical surveillance we’re all experiencing, throughout society, is increasing. Nearly every human, and non-human action—taps, clicks, swipes, gazes, waves, purchases, and steps, i.e. information—can be collected, measured, analyzed, correlated, and utilized as fuel to create insights and support decision making. Commercial, non-commercial, and government actors can use this information to guide society and power the industrial complex; individuals can use this information to enrich their lives if they are careful.

Market forces are reshaping privacy. No longer can we rely solely on social norms, commercial contracts, and regulations to help us manage our privacy, to protect us from harms or to optimize our prosperity. There are just too many holes in these systems for unintended consequences not to occur, or the opportunity to be lost. Individuals must now take an active role if they wish to maintain their privacy.

Privacy is difficult to define universally, given that it is treated differently around the world. Each society has different cultural and legal privacy norms. However, Alan Westin, a legal and privacy scholar, provides a concise description; privacy is,

“The claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.” (Westin, 1967)

By proactively managing privacy a person can limit unwanted physical and digital intrusion into their lives, mitigate material harms, and regain and maintain control over a valuable asset—their personal information.

For this shift to take place, people must first become aware of the value of managing privacy, begin to shift their attitudes and behaviors to personal sovereignty and integrate new capabilities, like a personal information management solutions, into their lives. It will take time; for many, privacy will become a luxury good. Namely, people with enough disposable income will use a disproportionate amount of their money to “buy back” their privacy and raise their social status. The goods they buy will signal to society that they can afford to maintain their sovereignty and still function in society.

In due course, social and commercial tides will turn, as the tools to manage privacy get better and more accessible. The world’s societies and economies will transform. Privacy will become the new luxury good from the people, not from industry, a good that people will actively nurture, manage and exchange. One day, possibly sooner rather than later, companies will be required to agree an individual’s terms of access, rather than an individual having to accept a company’s terms of service. Once this happens at scale, it will be companies buying the “luxury good” of privacy rather than the individuals having to give up their privacy to function in society.

To fully grasp what it means for privacy to be the new luxury good, we must examine many fronts; such as, the personal data, the key to privacy. We must review examples of how personal data is used throughout industry and shed light on typical industry practices, and the economics behind the transactions, that unwittingly or knowingly encroach on an individuals’ privacy. Furthermore, we must evaluate the technological, regulatory, and social forces that are reshaping society and are empowering people to take control of their personal data, their identity, their privacy. I’ll address all these topics in future posts. In the meantime, I invite you to contribute to fleshing out the idea that privacy is the new luxury good. Please add your ideas, thoughts, case examples, and any data you may have that supports or refutes the idea, as comments to this post.


Berners-Lee, Tim (2017), see

Westin, Alan (1967), see

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