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Is privacy dead?

Jay Cline | Jan. 7, 2014
Revelations in 2013 about NSA surveillance and the power of big-data analytics suggest the age of privacy is over. But a new 'privacy death index' places us far from the tipping point.

In a zero-privacy world, not all data would be created equal. I think six data vectors would stand out as the most valuable:

1) Our health capacity, including predicted longevity and strengths and weaknesses in our DNA. Prospective mates, employers, healthcare providers and insurers would flock to this data set if it materialized.

2) Our productivity capacity, including our natural aptitudes and predicted earnings potential. Match.com users and employers would top the list of customers for this data.

3) Our consumption instinct, such as what do we like to buy, how much, when and why, and our credit worthiness. Marketers are already paying for this data, but in an increasingly borderless world, tax authorities will find it easier to tax consumption than income and will also seek this data.

4) Our behavior instinct, including our public and private statements, beliefs, politics and capacity to act outside social norms. National-security and law enforcement agencies will seek this data, as will politicians.

5) Our social graph, including past and present family, friends, neighbors, classmates and colleagues. Marketers, criminals, national security and law enforcement will put this data on the top-six list.

6) Our location and predicted movement, potentially sought by marketers, the military and police.

These data sets would be the currency of life in a "total information-awareness" world, where people would be systematically and in real time classified into how valuable they were and how risky they were. With this information readily available, deviations from social norms would face immediate social and monetary penalties. Great deviations could face immediate reductions in liberty.

You could imagine without too much difficulty the following scenario unfolding in a total information-awareness world:

At 6:10 a.m., your "full night's sleep" app generates an alarm that also indicates you have no health reason to sleep further. You rise promptly, because you know doing so will prevent your lifetime productivity index from falling by about $1,000 per minute. From the kitchen, you spot the drone from your wellness coach landing on the table outside. It's carrying a breakfast of fresh local ingredients tailor-made to your DNA and body-mass goals. Minutes later, you don your Windows Glasses and dart outside for a half-hour jog. This exercise will boost your predicted lifetime longevity by four hours and reduce projected lifetime healthcare costs by $2,000, rates that will slightly diminish tomorrow. On the running path, you pass a throng of people also wearing Google Glasses and iGlasses. As you pass each one, a "friend" or "foe" icon pops up in your vision. A filter also pops up alerts for prospective spouses, business partners and criminals from your prefigured criteria. A left-eyelid blink would drill into their health and productivity profile, belief matrix and social graph, while a right blink would pull up suggested conversation starters. You pass a man wearing no glasses whose facial image is generating conflicting data in your screen. He's a "birther," a term that has evolved to describe the group of people trying to live off the grid who generally harbor conspiratorial views and religious beliefs contrary to the governing order. You pass a woman who isn't attractive to you, but your glasses say she's available and has the highest predicted children's IQ for your DNA that you've ever seen. You know that all of these fellow joggers, as well as your employer and all government agencies, can see all of this information about you too. You avoid darting off the path up an undeveloped hill, because that would boost your nonconformity rating tracked by law enforcement. As you turn onto a street — populated by vehicles autodriven to preprogrammed destinations — a startup wellness cafe delivers an ad to your glasses. The promotion offers to pay you $100 in Bitcoins to try the cafe's nutrient booster, which it projects it would recoup in just two months if you change your break routine and become a regular. The cafe should update its algorithm, you think, because your price for veering off course and alerting attention of the grid is probably closer to $10,000.

 

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