Sorry, Your Online Privacy Is Doomed: Report

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What’s the future of privacy? The Pew Research Center (a nonpartisan think tank) recently asked 2,511 privacy experts and “Internet builders” to offer their predictions on how security and privacy online will evolve over the next several years.

To those experts, Pew posed three questions:

Security, liberty, privacy online—Will policy makers and technology innovators create a secure, popularly accepted, and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025 that allows for business innovation and monetization while also offering individuals choices for protecting their personal information in easy-to-use formats?

Please elaborate on your answer. (Begin with your name if you are willing to have your comments attributed to you.) Describe what you think the reality will be in 2025 when it comes to the overall public perception about whether policy makers and corporations have struck the right balance between personal privacy, secure data, and compelling content and apps that emerge from consumer tracking and analytics.

Bonus question: Consider the future of privacy in a broader social context. How will public norms about privacy be different in 2025 from the way they are now?

Roughly 55 percent of those surveyed didn’t believe that an acceptable “privacy-rights regime and infrastructure” will come about within the next 10 years, although nearly as many—45 percent—believed that such a thing would happen by 2025.

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“The last 10 years have given us a discouraging surfeit of evidence that companies will preference their ability to extract, sell, and trade data than establish simple, easy-to-use privacy protecting mechanisms,” Kate Crawford, a professor and research scientist, told Pew. “In the next 10 years, I would expect to see the development of more encryption technologies and boutique services for people prepared to pay a premium for greater control over their data.”

Those who share Crawford’s pessimism seem to believe that living a very public life is the new default, with privacy transforming into something of a luxury good. The rise of the Internet of Things, which is already sprinkling sensors and other monitoring hardware through much of modern life, will also render it more difficult for people to maintain their privacy.

The more optimistic experts, however, believe that new tools will give consumers and businesses an enhanced ability to protect their identity and data from prying eyes; the periodic uproars over privacy violations will also help maintain “equilibrium” between consumers, businesses, and government regulators.

For app developers, the message seems clear: Building strong privacy policies and tools into your software products can seriously pay off, as it’ll assuage consumers who find their data and privacy increasingly subverted in the name of profit and/or lulz.

And hey, even if your online privacy ends up stripped away completely, you’ll always have the infamous “compubody sock” to prevent anyone nearby from spying on your screen.

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