Privacy has been a huge issue in discussions on the future of online services and advertising technologies. Many publishers and bloggers have written about it in the recent past. Fred Wilson claimed that you should keep it black and white - either you have or you don’t (his post here). The FTC would love that approach, as it has been trying to promote transparency in privacy for a while. Facebook, one of the major sources for data that leads to privacy concerns, recently went as far as to create a Chief Privacy Officer role (announced here). It seems that everyone is trying to ‘manage the beast’ - create boundaries and industry norms around what data remains ours, and what can be left to explore.
I, on the other hand, am a big believer in a different notion, which has been well described in eWeek’s “Web Privacy Is Gone Forever: 10 Reasons Why”. I think our privacy is gone. It is just a question of time until people realize it. Why? Because the value of losing our privacy exceeds the cost, because we’re lazy, and most importantly, because the new generation of consumers doesn’t really care. Let me explain…
The value exceeds the cost is the hardest argument to make- while I believe in it, it becomes somewhat irrelevant due to the second and third arguments, but let me try anyway. Let’s also add the caveat that clearly only 95% of data can be public, but that’s practically all - obviously some data should remain private (i.e. credit cards), and I would argue that some services should have a ‘fully private’ feature, but that should be the exception (and the opt in), not the norm.
Few can argue against the tremendous value in giving away your data. Whether showing you better ads through retargeting, simplifying your processes through storing password and other personal data, improving search through sharing of crowd data and enriching the results experience, this list can go on and on… And clearly on the service provider side, there is a lot of money on the table if they have access to your data… There is so much to be done if we all share what we have and what we know. And what do we lose? We lose the fact that what we share is public grounds. Unless we go into a substantial effort to protect it (as mentioned, in protection-specific locations), it can be seen by others - so what measures do we need to take? Publish only what you would like the world to see, and keep the rest behind key and chain. Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Spotify - they will all continue to get more and more public. They will not tier privacy because users will not manage multiple levels of privacy - why? Look at my second point..
We’re LAZY. Circles didn’t work. Groups don’t work. Different distribution lists and privacy settings are rarely set. Why? Because it takes a lot of work to do, and because the nature of grouping is that it is dynamic - so it needs constant updating. And people are lazy. We just are. This has been a/b tested to inifinity - and the overwhelming conclusion is that people just won’t do the work - so enabling different setting is the service provider’s way of getting a ‘pass mark’ on privacy, but it means practically nothing.
We just don’t care. You might. Your kids won’t, and not just because they’re kids. They are growing up in an age where EVERYTHING is shared. Everything is on Facebook. Every location is updated. Every thought twitted. So whether you like it or not, the last thing they are thinking about is privacy - that’s how they grow up. In fact, if you look at teenagers you will find the exact reverse trend - they are looking to do whatever they can to increase exposure and distribution, not to manage it. So we can fight it all we want - in 10 years time, the people who will define the future of online will not care about privacy AT ALL. And by the way, in 20 years, they will be the ones setting regulations… Scary thought.
So I expect 2012 will be a year where our privacy continues to deteriorate. You will see Path used not for families/small groups, unless you call a small group 200 of your ‘best’ friends. You will see more services that continue to expose what/when/where/how we do things. Targeting will continue to flourish. The amount of data shared and crunched by services will continue to exponentially rise. And regulators? ‘Responsible Adults’? They are like a wall made of plaster trying to block a giant Tsunami. They don’t stand a chance.
More in “Trends to Watch in 2012”