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Communication Privacy Management Theory-Disclosure Of Information

Communication is the process of giving and receiving information. It has various theories and models. One of them is the communication privacy management theory.

What Is Communication Privacy Management Theory?

Sandra Petronio developed this theory in 1991. It states that people share information and maintain certain boundaries based on the expected benefits and costs of self-disclosure. It is a research theory created to understand how people make decisions about sharing information.

The theory was initially known as communication boundary management. Later, in 2002, Petronio renamed it to communication privacy management theory to include the role of private disclosure of information.

A ‘boundary’ is used as a metaphor to describe the separation between private and public information. A person’s boundary controls his or her degree of information disclosure. If the information is disclosed to someone, there should be a negotiation and mutual agreement about disclosing information to others.

Components Of Communication Privacy Management Theory

  1. Privacy Ownership: This component contains our personal information that only we are aware of.
  2. Privacy Control: This component involves sharing personal information with someone else.
  3. Privacy Turbulence: This component comes into play when the owners of the information cannot mutually agree on the disclosure of that information.

What Are The Basic Principles Of Communication Privacy Management Theory?

  1. Individuals believe that they have a right to own and control their personal information.
  2. People control their personal information through a set of privacy rules.
  3. When an individual shares his or her personal information with someone else, the other person becomes a co-owner of that particular information.
  4. Co-owners of the personal information must negotiate and come to a mutual agreement about privacy rules about telling others.
  5. If the co-owners do not come to a mutual agreement or follow privacy rules, boundary turbulence tends to occur.

Privacy Rules

People tend to control their private information through a set of privacy rules. The boundary permeability rule defines the amount, breadth, and depth of information disclosure. In order to maintain strong control over information, people create a stronger boundary around the information as a way to protect that particular information.

For example, people who have a health issue but do not want it to be known to others, do not disclose it to a lot of people, to maintain a strong boundary.

The boundary linkage rule involves dealing with the boundaries of individuals through building a distinctive system of links that people attempt to maintain through reducing connections with certain others.

For example, clients who want to reveal personal information to a company about their requirements will want to be sure that their information is available to people who can protect that information. These rules affect communication and disclosure between people, which in turn, could affect their relationships.

Boundary Turbulence

If the co-owners do not come to a mutual agreement or follow privacy rules, boundary turbulence tends to occur.

For example, if a person shares a secret with a friend, and the friend discloses the secret to someone else, boundary turbulence occurs. It can result in a relationship break up, loss of trust, etc.


Jane was going through a hard time after her job loss. She disclosed this information to a close friend. She told her friend about her distress and confusion. She also told her friend that she did not want others to know about her state. She disclosed her issue and clarified her boundaries regarding personal information.

Disclosure-Privacy Dialectic Assumptions:

The theory asserts that people feel conflicted about disclosing information. They experience a push-and-pull mechanism in the sense that they want to share but they also want to hide. It is also known as the openness-closedness dialectic.

For example, Katy is going through a struggle of depression. She wants to communicate this struggle with her friends but at the same time, she feels she has to hide this information due to the stigma around mental health. These opposing forces of disclosing and keeping information private help us understand the privacy concerns and communications of individuals.

The dilemma is that people want to share but also hide information about themselves. They want to hide because of the drawbacks related to sharing personal information. If they share, they could potentially face shame, awkwardness, or be ridicule. Those fears might keep them from disclosing private experiences. At the same time, individuals want to share so as to form connections, get things off their chest and feel lighter, and get help or support.

This dilemma can be managed by building trust in people. Individuals can share with a close person they fully trust and see how it feels, maintain boundaries with this person and ensure agreement on these boundaries with the other person. One can even start by disclosing smaller details before talking about larger issues.

Research Evidence For Communication Privacy Management Theory:

Study By: Maggie Kanter, Tamara Afifi, Stephanie Robbins

Aim: To study the impact of parents being Facebook friends with their children on parent-child relationships and perception of parental privacy invasions.


  • 118 parent-child dyads participated in this study. The students were undergraduates.
  • There were 2 groups. One group of parents were asked to create a Facebook account, send friend requests to their children and use the account for 2 months.
  • The other group was a control group where the parents did not create a Facebook account.
  • Pre and post-surveys were filled by the student and the parent participants.


  • Results indicated young adults have a close and comfortable relationship with their parents.
  • Privacy invasion was not perceived by the children. They reported reduced conflict.
  • Closeness was enhanced in the parent-child relationship.

Applications Of Communication Privacy Management Theory

Communication privacy management theory has been applied in multiple contexts and with various populations. Researchers from several countries such as Japan, South Korea, Kenya, the United Kingdom, etc. have used this theory for their studies.

1. It can be applied to families, particularly, family privacy management. Issues such as parental privacy invasion, childbearing, infertility, and miscarriages can be studied and explained using this theory. Researchers can study how co-owning information can enhance trust and communication in relationships.

2. It can be applied to communication involving health. Disclosing an illness to family or friends, talking about symptoms, and discussing stigmatized diseases can be explained and understood through this theory. Health communication around stigmatized diseases by influential individuals can also reduce stigma and increase awareness.

3. It can be applied to workplaces as well. Deciding how much information the company can disclose to the employees, using company mail ids and having access to company computers can be understood and studied under this theory. Additionally, revealing information in interviews and building necessary boundaries at work can also be explained through this theory.

4. Disclosure in relationships and friendships can also be understood through this theory. Research can focus on turbulence due to disclosure, conflict avoidance and setting boundaries using this theory.

Criticism Of Communication Privacy Management Theory

Although the theory has multiple strengths, it is relatively new. More research needs to be conducted to understand how to efficiently utilize the theory. The research needs to focus on the validity of the theory. The dialectic nature of the theory has been questioned. Some researchers have asked whether the theory is truly dialectic. Their argument is that the theory treats privacy and self-disclosure as 2 unrelated mechanisms. In reality, the 2 mechanisms can be interconnected.

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