Privacy without trust is a cost: privacy with trust is an opportunity
Ubiquitous surveillance technologies have stripped us of our anonymity. What we do, even if we are part of a crowd, no longer goes unwatched. Technology allows each and everyone's actions to be observed, recorded, catalogued and searched.
Privacy matters. In the next five years it will matter even more as technology produces a "fishbowl" society, awash with recorded personal information.
Fear of exploitation is widespread in a society where your every action is observed, yet the observer remains unseen. It's nearly impossible to track who uses your data for what purpose, and crimes such as "identity theft" (which for example, now affects three to four per cent of the US population annually) are common.
As a consequence, privacy is becoming more of an issue. As Scott Shipman, chief privacy officer of eBay, said in a recent interview with Gartner executive programs, "There's growing awareness among consumers that everyone they associate with may have access to some personal information. That awareness is largely driven by the Internet. In the past it was all hard copy, all paper, less accessible to the customer, hence less awareness that information was being stored, processed and used. The reflex among consumers now is: 'I had no idea this was happening, and I don't think this is a good thing.' "
At the same time, fear of terrorism is driving more surveillance and removing more restrictions on the use of personal information by governments worldwide. If governments succumb to the temptation to use surveillance as an anti-crime or social-control weapon, a 1984 scenario is possible.
If technology and fear have removed the anonymity of the crowd, then something must take its place to maintain personal space. In a fishbowl society, the meaning of privacy will change from secrecy, to control.
Privacy Is Dividing Us
Waking up and finding yourself living in a fishbowl society, you could react in an extreme way by becoming a privacy fundamentalist. Privacy fundamentalists are single-minded in protecting their personal information. They deliberately withhold information wherever possible and watch for anyone using their data without their permission. As a group, privacy fundamentalists have grown in number. In a recent study their numbers have increased to 26 per cent of the US population. Here in Australia we expect only a slightly smaller figure.
A somewhat less extreme reaction to the fishbowl society would be to become a privacy pragmatist. Privacy pragmatists care about privacy but also want convenience. They'll gladly listen to a marketing pitch as long as they are comfortable with the protection you're offering. This group too is growing in importance, up from 54 per cent of the population in 1999 to more than 64 per cent today. But do not be lulled into a false sense of security. Privacy pragmatists morph into privacy fundamentalists if they believe you have violated their trust.
The most laid back attitude to the fishbowl society, but one that is becoming less common, is to join the ranks for the privacy unconcerned. The privacy unconcerned care nothing about privacy and allow anyone to record - and more importantly use - their personal information for what ever ends. But don't get too excited if you think you have just spotted a business opportunity. The numbers of the privacy unconcerned have tumbled from 22 per cent of the population in 1999, to only about 10 per cent today.