We live in a world where mega corporate entities require us to trade personal information in exchange for using the tools and toys they make available on the internet, where smaller companies surreptitiously mine everything about us they can from the platforms we use to access the internet under the guise of the “permissions” we grant when we install their apps, where governments strong-arm corporations and hack into data pipelines to spy on their citizens, and where CCTV watches us on the street while GPS tracks our location. Privacy as we knew it as little as 10 years ago no longer exists. What will it be like 10 years from now?
The Pew Research Center asked this general question to over “12,000 experts and members of the interested public” of whom 2511 responded. Pew organized the results into a report that they have made available as both an in-depth 6-page website and as a 79-page PDF.
Pew’s questionnaire asked the respondents to address the following 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?
On the first question the respondents were almost evenly split; 55% thought a privacy-rights infrastructure would not be in place by 2025 while the remaining 45% thought it would.
The responses are organized into themes that appeared frequently among those who thought a privacy-rights infrastructure would not be in place by 2025, those who thought it would, and themes that were shared by both groups. For example, both groups pointed to an arms-race dynamic in which increasingly sophisticated privacy-protection technology is countered by increasingly sophisticated privacy-breaching technology. Those with a positive view of how digital privacy will develop think the development of better privacy-protection technologies will result in more privacy control. Those with a less optimistic view think that few will have the time, knowledge or resources to understand and stay current with developing privacy technologies and that privacy will become a luxury item for the rich and privileged.
The report is not able to present arguments and counter arguments about the issues it raises because the questionnaire asked the respondents to express an opinion as opposed to presenting an argument in support of a position. In some ways this is unfortunate because an opinion without supporting argument or evidence is just an opinion no matter the level of expertise of the opinion giver in the area in which the opinion is expressed.
That being said, the Pew report contains a wealth of thoughtful opinions on a broad range of issues, concerns and ideas about privacy in the digital world. The report’s presentation of thematically-organized opinion statements invites browsing individual topic areas and rewards the reader with a rich collection of ideas to consider. If you have any interest in digital privacy, the Pew report is worth your time. If you don’t know or care much about digital privacy, the report might open your eyes about why you should.