As an entrepreneur working in the data protection software and consultation industry, I've spent some time in the past years thinking and discussing with colleagues about the possible futures of privacy.
As of the first half of 2020, the enforcement practices are still developing, and the data protection management practices are still relatively new to companies, even though the earliest privacy laws and the work around them have been around for decades.
I this blog article, I've written a few simplified future world scenarios on privacy, data protection, and digitalization. I hope the scenarios can give you some new ideas of the possibilities into which the world could be heading in the next decades as new technologies, like the 5G, 6G, 7G, IoT, sensors, eCommerce, big data, AI etc. are paving way to a more digitalized world of tomorrow.
At the end of the blog article, I present a question to the reader and myself: In which world would you want to live in?
#0 The Good ol' times of the Past: Everybody knows a little bit about some people
Characteristis: High information symmetry. Low data generation and processing. Medium control of one's personal data by individuals.
Collecting and personal data about people took lots of effort. It was in many parts manual, inefficient, and was done in relatively small scale. Much of information creation and exchange took place namely in face-to-face discussions, unrecorded phone calls, filling out paper forms and archiving them, and via paper letters. There were official records of people here and there in association with people's use of private and public services. The records were limited, and people enjoyed a high-level of privacy.
E.g. even during the cold war era, the state secret police services of soviet republics had relatively limited amount of information on citizens, even though there was a great will to collect information and conduct surveillance of the public. However, the means were undeveloped back then.
#1 A Transilluminated Society: Everybody knows everything about everybody
Characteristics: Ultimate information symmetry. Extremely high data generation and processing. Low control of one's personal data by individuals.
The whole world and the lives of individuals would be transilluminated via technology and data collection. Nobody would have any secrets, any privacy. Everything would be recorded with billions and trillions of micro-sized microphones, cameras, and sensors scattered around the globe, and connected to the Internet of Things. All digital services track every gesture made. Not a doctor meeting, word, sneeze, sigh, financial transaction, browsing session, or a kiss would go by without everyone being able to know and scrutinize it at will.
Nobody would have any secrets, any privacy
Even the rich and powerful wouldn't escape the eyes and ears of everyone else. The lives of the wealthy, influential, and powerful would be as openly monitored to the smallest of detail as the poorest people in the slums of developing countries. It would be the Truman Show or Big Brother -show of everyone 24 / 7.
Presumably many would consider a transilluminated society as a kind of dystopia, even though it would be egalitarian.
#2 The Omniscient Tech-Rulers: Some know everything about almost everybody
Characteristics: Ultimate information asymmetry. Extremely high data generation and processing. Low control of one's personal data by individuals.
It would be the same as in the previous scenario #1, except it would be only the rich, powerful, data-priviliged that would have nearly unlimited access to all possible aspects of everybody else's lives on the planet. At the same time they only they would be enjoying high-level of privacy and information security for themselves.
The data-priviliged super class would have vast possibilities to use personal data of others for personal gain and entertainment, but also to wield it for manipulating people, or even weaponizing it at will against individuals or whole societies using their access to the vast global databases and AI powered analytics algorithms.
Democratic institutions would be hard to sustain as politicians and voters could be easily manipulated by powerful interest groups that have access to the data and technology.
Some would consider this an authoritarian dystopia that could end democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and individual liberties. Others might see it as a necessary way to organize the world to have a small ruling class.
#3 MyData World - Individual Control of Personal Data and Privacy
Characteristics: High information symmetry. High data generation and processing. High control of one's personal data by individuals.
The rule of law concerning privacy and processing of personal data would be adhered to across the world by companies and governments. Highly developed and secure technology would have been enabled individuals to control their own personal data, and easily monitor that their personal data is being processed lawfully, and according to their will.
People of all walks of life would enjoy a high level of privacy and information security, and there would be trust toward private and public services across the globe with common rules and regulations.
People of all walks of life would enjoy a high level of privacy and information security, and there would be trust toward private and public services across the globe with common rules and regulations. The international order, technology, and data culture would allow services to be developed with big data in an ethically and juridically legitimate way.
Depending on the level of trust individuals experience, people could choose to host their personal data in secure clouds offered by various reputable and law-abiding companies. Alternatively, others would opt to host their personal data in their own self-controlled data centers located e.g. in their own property, perhaps even in their pockets.
Nations across the globe would enforce privacy laws like the GDPR, ePrivacy Regulation, CCPA, LGPD etc. As a result, people would enjoy their rights as data subjects, such as having high and seamless control over their personal data in terms of right-to-be-forgotten, ability to download their personal data to themselves, or transfer their personal data from one service provider to another.
Original question: Which world would you want to live in?
Scenario #0 of the past might be nostalgically tempting, but that time is gone, and such world can probably never return anymore.
Scenarios #1 and #2 sound dystopian, and would signify a total transformation to what it means to live as a human being in the world. Life in a world like that would mean that people would have less freedom and control over their lives, as every word, gesture, and action could be recorded, and be potentially analyzed and made conclusions upon by governments, corporations, or even the public as in scenario #1.
Thus, scenario #3 sounds the most balanced and viable future direction, which would be able to both enable technological and societal progress, but also retain the important institutions and values of developed nations. Therefore in my opinion, it would be an easy choice to pick scenario #3 as the most desirable future state.
Which world would you pick?
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