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Concepts of privacy in Japan and New Zealand. Rowena Cullen School of Information Management Victoria University of Wellington. Modern Japan a complex (possibly conflicted) society. Popular belief that Japanese lack concept of privacy - but this an over-simplification

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concepts of privacy in japan and new zealand

Concepts of privacy in Japan and New Zealand

Rowena CullenSchool of Information Management Victoria University of Wellington

modern japan a complex possibly conflicted society
Modern Japan a complex (possibly conflicted) society
  • Popular belief that Japanese lack concept of privacy - but this an over-simplification
  • Opportunity as Research Fellow, University of Tsukuba, December 2006-March 2007 to explore an element of this ambivalence
  • Concerns about privacy of personal information held by government
context of research
Context of research . . .
  • Japan has a highly developed telecommunications infrastructure, an extensive broadband network, and high internet usage rates (67.2% of the population in 2005)
  • By contrast, other aspects of Japanese culture suggest an overall lack of trust in government
  • Impact of this, and generally expressed concerns about internet security, on the confidence of citizens that government agencies will handle their personal information appropriately, especially in the online environment
definition of privacy
Definition of privacy
  • Westin (see refs at end)

"the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others”

  • Research explored
    • perceived risks in submitting information to government agencies
    • impact of breaches of privacy on trust in government
research instrument used based on earlier nz project reilly and cullen e govt web site
Research ‘instrument’ used based on earlier NZ project - Reilly and Cullen (E-govt web site)
  • New Zealand citizen’s concerns about the privacy of their personal information provided to government
  • Impact of breaches of privacy on trust in government
  • Questionnaire and focus group discussions seeking responses to scenarios illustrating breaches of privacy
  • Findings:
    • face to face communication with government preferred
    • low levels of confidence in the privacy of online communication but use for convenience sake
    • greater confidence in government than commercial organisations (distinctions between individual agencies)
    • Little awareness of existing protections
    • Breaches of privacy shown to have a negative impact on trust in government.
data sought for purposes of comparison cultural differences that might emerge
Data sought for purposes of comparison, cultural differences that might emerge
  • Same questions on concerns, knowledge of protections, trust in govt, impact of breaches, distinctions made between agencies, channel preference
  • Same questionnaire, scenarios altered to suit Japanese context (e.g. Juki-Net)
  • Explore differences between responses in NZ and Japan
  • Explanations in responses, and in literature for differences
  • Examine common perception - privacy is a new (‘Western’) concept in Japan
some points noted in literature english language only
Some points noted in literature (English language only)
  • Trust in govt commonly linked to Hofstede’s model of ‘power distance’ and ‘collectivism’
  • Conflicting views of Bellman and Milberg
  • Mizutani, Dorsey and Moor discuss the introduction of 'loanword' puraibashii
  • Argue that in Japanese culture there are related concepts concerning secret and forbidden matters
  • Concept of privacy more of self-imposed restraint vis-a-vis affairs of others (“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”)
  • Concept less individualised, but equally strong, however, group culture may have slowed extension of concern to Internet
nakada and tamura s concept of plurality
Nakada and Tamura’s concept of plurality
  • Explain apparent contradiction between attitudes to privacy and individualism
  • Dichotomy between Seken and Shakai
  • Seken - the aspect of the world that consists of traditional and indigenous ways of thinking and feeling)
  • Shakai - modernized ways of thinking influenced by thoughts and systems imported from ‘Western' countries.
  • 3rd element Ikai - aspect of the world from which evil, disasters, crime comes, along with freedom and spiritual energy
  • Also include contrast between Ohyake (impartial, open public domain) and Watakusi (partial, secret, selfish domain)
nakada and tamura s analysis
Nakada and Tamura’s analysis
  • When the word puraibashii was introduced to Japan, it was often compared with its ostensible opposite Ohyake
  • This linked the dichotomy of public/private, as used in Western thinking, thus Japanese concepts of Ohyake/Watakusi seen to express this dichotomy
  • Media tend to link the use of ICTs to the concept of puraibashii
  • Nakad and Tamura argue that puraibashii has come to include "expectations of data privacy", but not in the wider democratic sense in which it is used in western discourse
japanese privacy legislation
Japanese privacy legislation
  • Personal Information Protection Act passed 30 May 2003; came into effect on 1 April 2005
  • Establishes mandatory guidelines for central, local and regional government agencies - individual ministries to develop equivalent guidelines for business in their sector
  • Protects only living individuals, confined to information that distinguishes an individual from others - name, date of birth, address, job title, photograph, employment information, etc.
  • Focused on responsible management of information in databases, not privacy protection for ‘sensitive’ personal information, e.g health or financial
  • Right to control one's personal data also included as a part of the ‘right to privacy’ guaranteed under Article 13 of the Japanese Constitution
  • 34 people interviewed, 28 in English and 6 in Japanese
  • 19 males and 15 females
  • age range from 20-29 (5 respondents) through to over 65 (5 respondents)
  • Occupations: Ret’d, 4; Housewife, 5; Student, 6; Academic, 6; Non-professional worker (retail or office), 2; Scientific research, 3; Engineering and IT, 4; Teacher, 4.
  • 33/34 used Internet, 12/34(35%) Used Internet banking; 27/34 (79%) used online retail, trading
  • Males used online banking more than females, but no difference in online retail, small difference between those under/over 45 in online retail.
24 34 72 7 concerned about the privacy of personal information exchanged on the internet
24/34 (72.7%) concerned about the privacy of personal information exchanged on the Internet

Number of respondents strongly agreeing (SA), agreeing (A), disagreeing (D), or strongly disagreeing (SD) that their personal information would be handled properly and adequately protected by business and government

negative responses to follow up questions
Negative responses to follow-up questions
  • Only 9 respondents agreed that they trusted government employees with their personal information, (no strongly agree responses)
  • Just over 50% (n=17) agreed or strongly agreed “I am generally concerned about the amount of information that various government organizations hold about me”, (5 were neutral, 11 disagreed)
  • This did not lead to checking security/privacy statements on govt web sites
  • Only 12 checked for these on govt web sites; 20 checked on business web sites
  • Less than a third (n=9) strongly agreed or agreed that the rules governing the way in which government organisations collect and exchange information about people are adequate
japanese refuseniks
Japanese Refuseniks
  • Over 50% sometimes refuse to provide information to an agency if they felt there was not an adequate reason to ask for it. (Age and gender little impact)
  • Communication medium for exchanging information
    • 22 (64.7%) preferred ‘in person’
    • 19 (29.4%) preferred the postal system
    • None preferred telephone; 2 (5.9%) selected the Internet
  • Distinctions between government agencies in the level of trust accorded
    • Well trusted were Ministry of Justice, and the judiciary
    • Less trusted, the ministry in charge of pensions, the police, and the newly created Ministry of Defense
    • Concerns expressed about trustworthiness of local government, although 5 trusted “City Hall’ most
respondents explain what privacy means to them
Respondents explain what privacy means to them
  • Information they would like to keep private, or ‘have control over the disclosure of’
  • Commonly: name, address, age, date and place of birth; income, assets and savings (etc); family (ages of their children (etc), health data, education and career. (fears expressed about the rising crime rate, and recent abductions.)
  • Some added ‘personal habits, thoughts, religious ideas, and philosophies’
  • Some had employer in mind - wanted practices in the workplace sharpened up, concerned that pool of people who had access to their personal, income and health data increased every year
eloquent explanations of concepts held
Eloquent explanations of concepts held
  • One man said: keeping personal information safe within ‘my castle’ (wood, not stone), highlighting difference in protections offered by Japanese law and privacy laws in other countries
  • Many said: privacy a ‘western’ concept introduced into Japan with modernization, and the post-War Constitution. Concept, not well understood in Japan, and differed from the way it was perceived in other countries
  • A small number ( old and young) said they had ‘nothing to hide’, and therefore no concerns.
little knowledge of privacy protection
Little knowledge of privacy protection
  • 50% knew of some law or regulation, but could not name it
  • Some were aware the act worked in conjunction with the Constitution to ensure privacy in relation to government held information
  • Some also knew commercial companies responsible for their measures to ensure the protection of personal information
  • Some believed maintaining privacy was a personal responsibility, (possibly linked with high rates of withholding personal information requested by government?)
  • A letter from an agency which contained personal financial information was sent to another person in error, the intended recipient was notified by phone and an apology offered
  • An incident in the offices of the local prefecture where papers containing information about a neighbor’s property tax affairs, and a heated dispute about it, were left lying around and were seen by the participant
  • A breach of privacy concerning personal health data in a hospital
  • The prosecution of a government employee who had sold tax information to a debt recovery firm
  • The introduction in 2002 of the online database for registering residents, Juki Net. (55% did not have Juki card)
have attitudes to privacy changed in japan in recent years
Have attitudes to privacy changed in Japan in recent years?
  • Most agreed there was greater concern, prompted by three factors
    • breaches of privacy by government or individuals, reported in the media
    • public discussion that took place at the time the Personal Information Protection Act was passed
    • concerns about the security of credit card information in the media
  • Older respondents inclined to think young people less concerned about privacy (although some young had major concerns & personal experience of privacy violations)
contrast between modern concepts of individuality and privacy and older traditions
Contrast between ‘modern’ concepts of individuality and privacy and older traditions
  • Some older respondents (over 50s) spoke of traditional Japanese society, rural and urban, as more community minded
  • Developing concepts of individuality and privacy accompanied by a loss of the sense of community and mutual caring of traditional Japanese society
  • In traditional society, close-knit communities, people were expected to exercise personal restraint, (‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil
  • Similar to ‘drawing down the veil’ if they heard something untoward about a neighbor
comparisons with new zealand data
Comparisons with New Zealand data

Respondents engaged in online

activity in the two studies

d espite overall low levels of trust
Despite overall low levels of trust . . .
  • Japanese respondents less active in assuring themselves, of privacy protection on govt web sites (36% vs NZers 65%)
  • More likely to seek statements on privacy /security on business sites (61%), NZers 78%
  • Many comments referred to poor attitude of employees, declining standards, individualism, rather than agencies themselves – privacy statements not believed?
  • Individual comments about scenariosreflect attitudes to privacy identified by Mizutani, Dorsey and Moor, and Nakada and Tamura
  • Affront felt on behalf of neighbour (scenario 2), and comments on traditional community values used language that fits with philosophical framework described by Mizutani, Dorsey and Moor
  • Group-based concepts of privacy may be so strong that regulations have failed to provide protection in online world
  • Possibly reflected in overall lower rates of concern about the online environment among Japanese respondents. Concerns are more personal
other factors
Other factors
  • Possible endorsement of Nakada and Tamura framework– growth in self-centered individualism, alienation from more caring society of the past, even if essential to Japan’s advancement
  • Less emphasis on ‘democratic values’ than in western concept of privacy
  • Some impact of low level of trust generally in politicians in Japan – corruption commonly reported (Japan 17th on Corruption Perceptions Index)
  • High level of dissatisfaction reported here, needs to be addressed
  • Reilly, P and R. Cullen. Information Privacy and Trust in Government: a citizen-based perspective. Wellington: State Services Commission, 2006. Retrieved 16 January 2006 from:
  • Westin, A. Privacy and Freedom. New York: Atheneum, 1967, p 7
  • Hofstede, G. Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991
  • Bellman, S., Johnson, E.J., Kobrin, S.J. and G.L.Lohse, "International differences in information privacy concerns: a global survey of consumers." The Information Society 20, 2004, pp 313-324
  • Milberg, S.J., Smith, H.J., and S.J.Burke. "Information privacy: corporate management and national regulation." Organization Science 11(1), 2000, pp 35-57
  • Mizutani, M., J. Dorsey, and J.H.Moor. "The Internet and Japanese conception of privacy." Ethics and Information Technology 6, 2004, pp121-128
  • Nakada, M. and T. Tamura. "Japanese conceptions of privacy: an intercultural perspective." Ethics and Information Technology 7, 2005, pp 27-36
  • Transparency International. Corruptions Perception Index 2006