You are googling your favorite celebrity online and ads keep popping up for Paris hotels. It just so happens that you are going to Paris for a business meeting next month. You did no searches for “Paris hotels.” How did they know?
A friend forwards me an email titled “Your Voter Report Card.” It chides him because he “failed to vote in the last three elections.” It was sent by a political organization he never joined or even heard of. “They have access to my voting records,” he said. “What else do they know about me?”
“In Dubai, you are never stopped for traffic violations,” our guide tells us. “They have digital cameras everywhere with super-sophisticated lenses that can not only track every car on the road by license plate, but also see into the car and identify who’s driving.”
And get this… Amazon has plans for “the next generation of the convenience store.” Says Jeff Brown, writing in The Palm Beach Daily News: “When you walk inside, you scan a barcode on your phone’s Amazon Go app linked to your Amazon account. That’s how the cameras know who you are. From there, you’re free to browse and take any items you wish. The cameras track which items you take. Then, you can simply leave with your items. Amazon will charge your credit card on file and email you a receipt. That’s it. No lines. No checkout counters. No self-scanning. You just walk in, grab what you want, and walk out… How’s that for convenient?”
The End of Privacy: Are You Ready for It?
There is no doubt about it. Personal privacy is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Right now, if you would like to keep everything you do and say private, you’d have to live off the grid-like a 17thcentury trapper. And with the amazing advancements in satellite and facial recognition technology, even that will soon be impossible. There are already cities where every movement on every street is recorded 24/7. In another 5 or 10 years, there won’t be a moment of our lives that is not observed and recorded.
What can you do to stop the continued erosion of personal privacy?
My answer: Nothing. It’s not going to end. There are simply too many consumer benefits to all the technologies – and too much money being made.
This is not a partisan trend. Ideologically speaking, it is an equal opportunity virus. It has come and is still coming from all sides of the political and social spectrums.
And that’s another reason there is no hope for an ebbing of the tide. Silicon Valley is not going to go Luddite. And our governments? They have to love it. For them, it means not only an end to crime but (more importantly) an end to tax evasion.
In the short term, there will be lots of public careers damaged and millions of private lives shattered. But in the long term – well, I believe we will all come to accept it. More than that, I think there’s a fair chance we might come to like it.
Imagine a world without rape and murder. Imagine a world where you can drive your car without worrying about reckless drivers or your children being kidnapped or bullied. Imagine a world where you don’t have to fret about anyone stealing from you or your spouse committing adultery. Imagine a world where you don’t have to do any sort of manual labor you don’t want to do. Imagine a world where nobody litters or shoplifts or uses foul language or cuts lines.
It may seem fantastical, but much of the technology is already here and the rest is being developed quickly.
It seems that privacy, like freedom or democracy, is or should be an inalienable right. But the fact is that privacy, like freedom and democracy, is valuable only if people value it. And it turns out that there are things that people value more. Comfort and ease are two. Security is another.
What’s happening – it seems to me (although perhaps I’m wrong because I don’t see anyone else saying this) – is that technology has been, for at least 30 years, changing the world in a way that is changing the ideas that people value.
If you are under 30, you already know this. If you are my age, you are worried. You are worrying about exposure. You know what I’m talking about – those little aberrant behaviors you’ve been indulging in privately. You’re not harming anyone, but you certainly don’t want them to be broadcast to the public!
Well, you are going to have to get over that. Because before long they will become public knowledge. We will be living in a world where everyone’s shameful behavior will be public. But guess what? Then it will no longer be shameful!
Nobody will care about those quirky little things you do in private because we will soon discover that everyone is doing quirky little things. We will soon discover something that poets and children have always known – that human behavior is much more varied and much less noble than we’ve been led to believe. We will discover that most people do all sorts of embarrassing things. And because those things will be understood as so common, there will no longer be any shame attached to them – and, thus, no reason to hide.
Imagine our brave new world as a global nudist camp. At first, you will want to keep your “private parts” covered up. But after seeing everyone else’s, you’ll be very comfortable exposing your own.
Does this sound implausible? Well, I’ll bet you anything that this is exactly what’s going to happen.