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5 reasons we're losing the fight for online privacy

Paul Coletti | Jan. 23, 2014
The evidence is all around us that the battle will eventually be lost.

Sadly, the writing is on the wall for the venerable PC. The global sales graph for 2013 resembled a ski slope, with a steep fall of 10%. One research group called it the "worst decline ever." Meanwhile, it's boom time for tablets and other mobile devices, with one analyst predicting parity between Apple device sales and PCs coming as soon as this year. Whether you see a problem with that might depend on whether you agree with free-software guru Richard Stallman, who has described Apple products as "jails made cool." I don't go that far — there is much to laud about the iTunes infrastructure -- but I see his point. And the fact is that the next great technological advances in privacy are unlikely to come from folks who shut you down just because of non-standard use of a volume knob.

5. The coming demographic deluge, a.k.a. the clincher
Have you watched a 12-year-old get a new smartphone? Try it sometime. Most of them will have sent their first Snapchat before the cellophane even hits the floor. Not for them the laborious rigmarole of going into settings and turning off location services or disabling automatic logins and password storing. No, they want to use the features, and they want them now. And it's not because of ignorance.

Today's youth are a tech-savvy bunch and know full well the consequences of power-using unhardened devices. Alas, the truth is far more prosaic: They're simply cool with it. The 20-year-olds of the 2020s will be the first generation to have grown up with extremely smart apps, constant interconnectedness and defaults that will eventually morph from wide open to gaping chasms. Many of them will hit university without having even seen something as quaintly customizable as a PC. Facebooking a friend on the train while simultaneously updating Foursquare will be as second nature to them as editing AUTOEXEC.BAT was for that dwindling band of brothers who can remember Windows 3.11.

Fast forward a couple more decades and the angsty teen you see today thumbing her phone under the bed covers with Black Veil Brides pounding out of the speakers will be CEO of the next Buzzfeed. Her peers and colleagues will all possess the same mind-set: Sharing is good.

Meanwhile, we oldies worrying about snooping will be reduced over time to an ever-dwindling demographic. You'll still be able to spot us, of course; look for the grey-haired moaners, hobbling along to their evening ACLU meetings and making rude signs to the CCTV on every street corner.

But between today's privacy campaigners and the tweens, whom do you think Mark Zuckerberg gets all misty-eyed about when planning his product road maps? Didn't someone once say being ignored was worse than being dead? I'm afraid if you're reading this and you're over 25, you're already approaching irrelevance. The technology of tomorrow is being tailored toward those who are comfortable with its ethos of openness. Increasingly, younger users and manufacturers are bouncing ideas off each other in a mutually beneficial circle, all the while innovating away from privacy. Those in the creative technology business who don't want to participate in this love-in will find their customer base shrinking or, like Ed Snowden's email provider, they'll find themselves on the wrong end of government pressure and simply decide it's easier to fold.


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