One of the many unfortunate fallouts from the recent hacking scandals is the harsh realization that privacy in the age of the Internet is now essentially gone. Some may argue it was never there in the first place but regardless, it’s clear today that things you do online—whether in email, instant messaging, social media or web browsing—are but a few clicks away from being exposed for all the world to see.
Scary thought, isn’t it?
At the same time, we all fundamentally know there is a very real need for privacy—some things should only be shared with their intended audience. So, how do we overcome this rather critical dilemma?
Unfortunately, it’s become clear to me that digital privacy is quickly evolving from what should be a right to something that looks more like a privilege—a privilege I think we’re going to end up paying for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not endorsing the concept—but at this point, I’m afraid it’s inevitable.[pullquote]Unfortunately, it’s becoming clear to me that digital privacy is quickly evolving from what should be a right to something that looks more like a privilege—a privilege I think we’re going to end up paying for. “[/pullquote]
Just as some people choose to spend extra money to live in the supposed safety of gated communities in the real/material world, so too will we see some people willing to pay to take refuge within digitally gated communities in the virtual world. We’ve already seen the introduction of services that attempt to repair the online reputations of individuals, but I think this is only the tip of the iceberg. I fully expect to see companies create services that essentially act as digital bodyguards as you make your way around the internet.
Ironically, in order to do that, they’re probably going to have to follow everything you do online more closely than even our current nightmare scenarios of digital identity theft might lead us to dream up. The difference, of course, will be all about trust. A truly discrete and trusted digital protector could, in theory at least, enable the kind of protection I’m describing. But the level of trust necessary to pull this off is far beyond anything I think we’ve ever seen in the digital world and it’s not immediately clear to me who could provide it…. An eager startup? Not likely. A major OS or online platform provider? Maybe.
Regardless, the introduction and evolution of a digital privacy service is bound to raise a number of very important, very fundamental questions. Who can have access to this? Who should have access to it? For the naively optimistic, why is it even necessary?
People are going to (and should) expect some degree of privacy in their lives and, as more of their lives move online, those expectations are bound to move online with them. The challenges of hacking and digital privacy invasions are not going away and, unfortunately, are likely to get much worse. This makes the need for digital privacy services even more important. There are still big questions that need to be discussed, however, and new policies will likely need to be implemented to help address what I think will be one of the biggest challenges of our era.