[prahy-vuh-see; British also priv-uh-see]
See more synonyms for privacy on
noun, plural pri·va·cies for 5, 6.
  1. the state of being apart from other people or concealed from their view; solitude; seclusion: Please leave the room and give me some privacy.
  2. the state of being free from unwanted or undue intrusion or disturbance in one's private life or affairs; freedom to be let alone: Tourists must respect the tribe’s privacy. Those who wish to smoke can do so in the privacy of their own homes.See also invasion of privacy.
  3. freedom from damaging publicity, public scrutiny, secret surveillance, or unauthorized disclosure of one’s personal data or information, as by a government, corporation, or individual: Ordinary citizens have a qualified right to privacy. There is so much information about us online that personal privacy may be a thing of the past.
  4. the state of being concealed; secrecy: Before he told us of his plans, he insisted on total privacy.
  5. Usually privacies. Archaic. a personal matter that is concealed; a secret.
  6. Archaic. a private or secluded place.

Origin of privacy

First recorded in 1400–50, privacy is from the late Middle English word privace. See private, -acy

Synonym study

Privacy, secrecy, isolation, and sequestration all refer to keeping someone or something protected or hidden from others. Privacy and secrecy are particularly concerned with preventing others from knowing about one's actions, thoughts, and communications. In general, secrecy implies that people who are not directly involved in a matter are completely unaware of it; whereas privacy implies only that those who are not involved, though aware of the matter, are prevented from knowing the details. For example, a teenager might keep a private diary, which her parents know about but which is kept locked so that they cannot read it, or a secret diary, the very existence of which is kept hidden from her parents. Or the leaders of two countries might meet in private, meaning that the fact of the meeting might be widely known but only the leaders themselves know what they said to each other; but if they want to meet in secret, they take steps to prevent the general public from finding out that the meeting took place at all.
Isolation and sequestration generally signify physical separation. In contrast to privacy and secrecy, which are usually sought by the individuals involved, isolation and sequestration are often imposed by others. For example, a vulnerable medical patient might be kept in isolation to protect him from acquiring an infection through contact with others, or a prisoner might be placed in isolation —that is, in solitary confinement—as punishment for an infraction. Sequestration can refer to things as well as to people, and is most often used to specify separation in technical or legal contexts: Carbon sequestration in the coal industry can potentially alleviate the problem of global warming; Sequestration of the jury she was serving on kept her away from her family for weeks; Until its leaders comply with international agreements, sequestration of that nation's overseas bank accounts will remain in effect.
One wants to keep one's secrets secret, and as well, keep many aspects of one's life private. But the ability of powerful corporations, government intelligence agencies, online stores, social media, or even individual thieves to reach and probe into our personal communications, buying habits, financial resources, circle of friends, and general lifestyle poses threats to one's privacy. Fortunately, for most people, reasonable precautions are usually enough to allow them to engage in normal activities without great worry. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for privacy

Contemporary Examples of privacy

Historical Examples of privacy

  • Mine is a life of privacy and retirement compared with that of other men.

  • Directly they had reached the privacy of the street they became quieter.

  • It has a right to privacy as to its own doings and its own affairs as much as if it were its own father.

  • Tears, of course, except in the privacy of one's closet, were not ethical on the Street.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Napoleon was silent a moment, as if protesting against this invasion of his privacy.

British Dictionary definitions for privacy


  1. the condition of being private or withdrawn; seclusion
  2. the condition of being secret; secrecy
  3. philosophy the condition of being necessarily restricted to a single person
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for privacy

1590s, "a private matter, a secret;" c.1600 as "seclusion," from private (adj.) + -cy. Meaning "state of freedom from intrusion" is from 1814. Earlier was privatie (late 14c. as "secret, mystery;" c.1400 as "a secret, secret deed; solitude, privacy"), from Old French privauté.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper