Communication privacy management theory (CPM) states that
individuals own their private information and control what
information is concealed or revealed (Bridge & Schrodt,
2013). To manage their information, people construct
privacy boundaries that “protect private information,
ensuring it is unknown to others until the boundary is
opened or made permeable” (McManus & Nussbaum, 2013, p.
197). To control these boundaries, every individual creates
privacy rules to determine how and when to disclose private
What is it?
There are five core principles of CPM. First, people
believe that they own their private information, and
therefore have a right to control such information.
Second, people construct and use privacy rules to
guide their sharing and concealing of private
information. Third, when others gain access to a
person’s private information, they become co-owners of
that information. Fourth, co-owners of information
need to negotiate mutually agreeable privacy rules and
boundaries about telling others this information.
Fifth, when privacy rules and boundaries are not
sufficiently discussed between the co-owners of
information, turbulence occurs (Tenzek, et al., 2013).
What is it?
Developed by Sandra Petronio in 2002, CPM applies to
multiple areas of communication studies. This theory is used
in health communication as a guideline for disclosing
medical diagnoses, and has recently been applied to online
social media as scholars investigate Facebook usage and
privacy. However, CPM is primarily used to study family
communication (Petronio, 2013).
CPM is praised for its applicability, as it is “a practical
theory constructed to ... understand everyday problems and
events that people encounter in families” (Toller &
McBride, 2013, p. 34). CPM provides guidelines that
individuals use when revealing and concealing their private
information, and this theory helps families discuss
difficult personal topics such as …
Child abuse Sexual orientation
CPM suggests that every individual experiences tension
between revealing and concealing private information
(Tenzek, Herrman, May, Feiner, & Allen, 2013, p. 328).
While sharing information indicates trust and intimacy,
some topics are “difficult and uncomfortable for the
speaker to discuss and/or for the recipient to hear”
because they are hurtful, inappropriate, and/or stressful
(McManus & Nussbaum, 2013, p. 197). By following the
privacy rules of CPM, individuals can alleviate this
tension and determine their best strategy for disclosure.
As CPM was developed in 2002, it is
still a new communication theory that
Petronio continues to revise, refine,
and expand. A common criticism of CPM
is that the theory does not suggest how
to repair breaches of privacy. While
the theory states that turbulence
occurs when privacy boundaries are not
adequately discussed between co-owners
of information, Petronio does not
explain how to overcome and mend such
turbulence (Plander, 2013).
Furthermore, the theory offers little
explanation behind its principles and
framework, and many scholars believe
that more research needs to be done to
demonstrate its consistency (Plander,
CPM asserts that privacy rules are socially learned
and influenced by culture and gender. Most individuals
first construct their privacy rules through the family
because “parents and family members are often the
first teachers of the concept of privacy” (Serewicz,
2013, p. 2). Parents teach their children what
information can be shared and what information should
be kept private (i.e., nudity, family finances). As
individuals grow and mature, their privacy rules
evolve to reflect their peers, school, the media, and
other social influences. For example, when an
individual begins a new job or joins an organization,
they very quickly learn the appropriate privacy rules
and boundaries that they are expected to follow.
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