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ICA 2012: Patrick Sharbaugh

Wisdom of the Crowd: Understanding Online Personal Privacy in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam

With more than 30 percent of the world’s population now connected to the Internet, online personal privacy has become a top concern among citizens of many nations and regions, and it has become clear that attitudes about and conceptions of online privacy represent a nexus of significant change in the construction of culture, society, and citizenship. These attitudes and conceptions may differ significantly across national borders, therefore examining different notions of privacy may better enable us to understand the changes underway.

Using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies, this researcher undertook an exploratory study into two research questions: 1) How do Internet users in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam understand and conceive of online personal privacy?, and 2) How concerned are they about personal privacy on the Internet? Rather than imposing Western definitions of privacy on local respondents, this study attempted to infer a conception of Vietnamese privacy values and parameters from responses using methods designed to avoid priming respondents with non-local perceptions of the research topic.

The results reveal a more complex conception of personal privacy than those predicted for Vietnam by Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture, and one that differs significantly from traditional Western conceptions. In Vietnam, privacy appears to be chiefly understood as a means of safeguarding valuable personal data on the Internet from dangerous individuals who seek to obtain it for malign purposes, rather than a fundamental right, an inviolable aspect of self, or a claim by individuals to be left alone and free from surveillance. Vietnamese appear unconcerned about governmental or organizational scrutiny, and seem to have little regard for privacy policies or regulations. In this, the Vietnamese conception of online privacy appears to depart significantly from longstanding notions of privacy that have informed discourse, social practice, regulatory efforts and citizenship in the Western hemisphere for more than a century and which continue to influence current debates and policy decisions.

Patrick Sharbaugh has a B.S. in Biological Sciences and an M.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from his home state of South Carolina in the U.S. His professional career has been diverse, including newspaper and magazine publishing, marketing and public relations, large-scale special event production, and a dalliance with a print-to-web bridge technology firm in the first dot com boom. Patrick is currently on the teaching faculty at RMIT International University Vietnam, the major Asian centre of operations for Melbourne-based RMIT University and one of the largest offshore university campuses in the Asian-Pacific. Patrick spent a year in Kyoto, Japan, before joining RMIT in 2007, where his teaching focus was in Asian cybercultures, cross-cultural communications, and the intersection of media and society.