Human Factors Blog Entry #5 – Privacy vs Confidentiality

After last week’s class, I was confused about the difference between privacy and confidentiality. After thinking about the two terms, this is my interpretation:



My understanding of privacy is that it is related to the person(s) involved. Privacy is not physical, so it can be invaded, but not stolen or disclosed. “Invasion of privacy” is a legal term. It is a circumstance where an individual or organization knowingly intrudes upon a person. The intrusion occurs when the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as in a bathroom or change room.

When conducting research on participants, there are some privacy considerations that I believe should be given to:

  • The methods used to identify and contact potential participants
  • The methods used to obtain information about participants
  • The settings in which they will be interacting with you. For example, the participants may not want to be seen entering a place that might stigmatize them. Maybe they don’t want to be seen in any public location were someone might be able to identify them.



Confidentiality applies to physical objects or intangible information. The nature of it means that it can be copied or stolen.

When I think about confidentiality, I think about:

  • how the data will be used
  • who will have access to it
  • what procedures will be put in place to ensure that only authorized individuals will have access to the information

For example, medical confidentiality means that doctor A cannot disclose my medical data to anyone (not even doctor B) without my permission. I’ve had this happen and had to sign quite a bit of paperwork to get a simple report transferred between two doctors. It was a hassle, but it is the procedure.

Most companies make special efforts to keep certain types of information secret. This information can include customer information, financial records, payroll records, and many other types of confidential information. Methods used to protect confidential information can include high-security file cabinets and encrypted fax machines used to send and receive confidential information.Despite these precautions, many employees continue to throw sensitive information into trash or recycle bins. Periodic inspections of trash bins will usually show that much confidential information is disposed of improperly.




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