Data privacy matters a lot to some people and hardly at all to others. However, computer systems can't be so flexible - they need consistent rules. Because the people who care about privacy include lawmakers, some of those rules are dictated by government. Other rules are driven by consumer preference, as interpreted by businesspeople whose jobs depend in part on making their customers happy. Some organizations even include ethical considerations in their policies.

Many privacy rules reflect a set of "fair information practices" first drafted in the 1970s. (The Center for Democracy & Technology has a good overview at Also see for a look at privacy rules by industry.) Although formulations vary, basic components are:

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