Privacy, the Intangible Luxury


Written By: David Hopkins

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In the mass consumption society that we live in, luxury brands such as Prada, Rolex and Chanel, have established themselves by successfully adhering to the traditional codes of luxury, which include social status, quality, exclusivity, historical heritage and authenticity. However, the landscape is changing for these brands. The digital world in particular poses the most pressing problem for luxury brands, and they must adapt to avoid missing out.

As we spend more of our daily lives online, the underlying principles that shape the internet continue to influence what we expect from brands operating in this space. Society has become accustomed to searching, browsing and consuming content for free. The pace at which things are shared and at which content ‘goes viral’ means that ideas like exclusivity and rarity have a very limited shelf life indeed.

Whilst we see governments and brands attempting to clamp down on this freebooting spirit, theirs remains a running battle of compromises made and losses cut. The very nature of the internet demands that what is held by the few must then be shared by the many, as the US government discovered to their cost in the wake of the Wikileaks scandal.

Classic luxury
Classic luxury

What does this mean for the notion of luxury? How can a concept that is founded on the very principles of exclusivity and rarity that the internet seeks to erode continue to operate?  Furthermore what does this mean for brands who operate within the luxury market and which, as the modern marketing rules dictate, must also have a hyper-active presence online? Larraufie and Kourdoughli get to the nub of this problem in their work ‘The E Semiotics of Luxury’ when they state: ‘Luxury brands have not succeeded in transferring the luxury boutique experience online, and do not manage to reconcile the rarity principle of luxury with the mass principle of digital.’ [i]

If luxury means having an abundance of what was once scarce then the question becomes what does ‘rarity’ mean in a digital context? What does the internet render scarce and therefore valuable?

We would suggest, an opportunity has arisen for luxury brands to offer access to another alleged human right: privacy.  In 1980, Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren defined the ‘right to privacy’ as the ‘right to be let alone’. [ii] Historically, the home has been a personal fortress for privacy, but with the introduction of the World Wide Web, this personal space has been infiltrated.

We have become more susceptible to eavesdropping by companies that use our personal data to treat us like mere products. Every moment we spend online, we leave personal data breadcrumbs behind for the corporate collective to chew on.  Being ‘let alone’ has become a luxury, and digital privacy is an ever-growing concern that has become the intangible luxury good.

People want to revert back to a time when eavesdropping was considered an offence. Humans are now wanting to fortify their online space. Could luxury brands offer online customers this intangible luxury good, privacy, through the protection of personal data in exclusive areas? Is privacy the new luxury for the digital age?

[i] Larraufie, A., Kourdoughli, A. (2014). ‘The E-semiotics of Luxury’, Journal of Global Fashion Marketing 5(3): 197 – 208

[ii] Warren, S., Brandeis, L. (1890) ‘The Right to Privacy’, Harvard Law Review 4(5): 193-220

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