The intersection of privacy and technology gets a lot of press. It seems at least once a week an article comes out along the lines of this “Girls Around Me” story.
The dialogue about technology and privacy seems to place people into three camps:
- The “victims.” These are people who are unaware of how their technology works. An example would be the “poor” girls in the above story who apparently do not realize that their location and Facebook profiles are easily searchable by would-be pick up artists.
- The “educated.” These are your reasonably tech savvy folks who know how to fiddle with their Facebook privacy settings and delete their Google search histories. These people make full use of available technologies, but take precautions to configure their preferences so that certain aspects of their lives remain protected. Like the author of the above article, these people tend to advocate privacy education as being the best solution.
- The “relinquishers.” These people simply opt out of potentially privacy-eroding technologies. (They definitely aren’t on Facebook, for example.) Interestingly this category unites both tech-fearing luddites and tech-loving nerds such as the “linux aficionado” mentioned in the above article.
If I had to place myself in one of the above categories, I’d choose number two. But if I’m true to my own beliefs, what I really think is this:
Privacy is going away. And no amount of fiddling with settings, educating yourself, or opting out is going to help.
Think of the following list of technology trends. Then imagine these technologies mature and linked up with each other:
- better integration of global positioning systems
- improved and ubiquitous face recognition
- smaller and more pervasive cameras
- smaller and higher capacity hard drives for storing video and other recorded data
- more widespread cloud and network access
- better algorithms for search and data analysis
- improved 3D scanning and modeling
- phones embedded in glasses and contacts
I’m probably leaving some things out. But I think if you run the thought experiment and put all this together here’s the world you get in very short order:
- Everything you do in public will be recorded from multiple angles, online, and searchable by people armed only with a few fragments of data about you (first name and city for example.)
- Anything you do in private with other people present will probably also be recorded in some form with a high chance of leakage out into the world. That is unless you take great pains to prevent this from happening.
- Anything you do completely alone will potentially be spied upon unless you are extremely rigorous about protecting yourself. Moreover, your likely behavior during such “blackout periods” will often be inferable from the surrounding recorded periods in your life.
In this scenario, opting out of social networks and configuring privacy settings will not help you. Opting out will not prevent your face and location from being recorded by other people. And opting out will not prevent other people or impersonal algorithms from tagging this data with your name.
I anticipate a future where most crimes are impossible to get away with. A future where adulterers, liars, and gossipers get caught immediately. Where there is no longer a clear division between work, family, and social life. Where large numbers of people will have naked pictures, or at least body scans, available somewhere online. Where your entire personal history will be recallable at a moment’s notice.
Because I believe this, I have adopted the opposite strategy from what some people are recommending. I am not trying to protect my privacy by fiddling with settings. Instead I am readying myself for the end game and acclimating myself to a future with no privacy. I am actually trying to share more information, be more open, be less secretive, and be the same person, at all times, regardless of what company I am in. I am trying to construct a life for myself where I truly have nothing to hide. And I am doing this not because I necessarily want to, but because it seems like the wise transition to start making given the reality of these technologies.