This is a seven-part miniseries I’m doing on privacy and unauthorized surveillance in the digital age. Check out links to the other posts at the bottom.
This series has left me with more questions than answers. I’ll close with three big ones.
The first is a little off the wall, and I mean it more whimsically than seriously: Will I need to go outside anymore?
If Virtual Reality gets as good as one could imagine it will be, then one can imagine a state in which the “real world” is less finely tuned to amuse and distract us than is the experience we get with our headset at home. Already teenagers can spend 12–13 hours at a clip locked into a video game while their parents beg them to go outside.
Even if you need to “go somewhere” to see something personally or meet someone. Could that be done with a robot on a stick like Snowden? He himself says he’s limited, joking that “humans have nothing to fear from robots so long as we have stairs and Wi-Fi dead zones in elevators.” Maybe he hasn’t seen some of the new robots from Boston Dynamics that can walk around, pick themselves up and even jump.
Second Question: How much am I willing to pay for privacy? And How much am I willing to pay for security?
I’ve come to an ironic conclusion. From what I can tell, one of the best ways to protect your identity is to give up your privacy. Here’s what I mean. Facebook, Google and Amazon are huge companies that eat up our personal data and privacy. On the other hand, the fact that they are so big and profitable is what enables them to hire the best engineers and invest the most resources in making their products secure from hackers. Getting that security is often free because many of their services are free. But it comes at the price of your own privacy.
Third Question: Are we ready to live in a world with no privacy at all?
In business school, one can’t graduate without at some point hearing Warren Buffet’s advice on business ethics: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. The truth is we are increasingly living in an era when all of our activities will be that transparent. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it will lead to a greater number of people living with integrity — because there is no opportunity to hide.
But to me it seems privacy still has it’s place. Space must be protected for people to think thoughts that might not be accepted by the ruling majority — whether those thoughts are religious, political, or about something else. All innovation and change comes from the ability of men and women to think for themselves. If every thought and action is subjected to the spotlight of scrutiny, criticism, analysis, and manipulation, we will not become what we are meant to be.
Read widely. Read wisely.