Life without privacy

If one were to extrapolate where we will be 100 years from now, I think the most profound difference between then and now may be an almost complete absence of privacy.

Arthur C Clarke collaborated with Stephen Baxter on a novel called “The Light of Other Days” which describes the development of a camera for consumers based on wormhole technology that allows anyone to see anywhere in 3 dimensional space, and to also move the camera backwards or forwards in time. So besides witnessing the birth of Jesus, one can see what your neighbor was doing three weeks ago in their bathroom.

They explore how the impact of this technology modifies social behavior and accepted norms.

We’re heading into this world at a pace that defies belief. Your cellphone contains a GPS that tells the world where you are at any moment, whether you like it or not. If you are one of the 845 million active users on Facebook, there is a record of who you are, your history and your relationships that puts to shame every national security database that ever existed. We have Google maps providing satellite coverage of most of the planet with street level views constantly updated.

The latest development that has the potential to make Google’s coverage of the Earth real-time is that the FAA will integrate unmanned drones into United States airspace by 2015. To put this in perspective, the lowest low earth orbiting satellites are roughly 100 miles (160km) above Earth. All Google satellite imagery you see is taken from at least that distance and only on a cloud free day. Unmanned drones can reduce that to 500 feet (150 meters) or less, depending on how the FAA decides to regulate them. They can also take photos at a far more acute angle, providing images similar to Google’s street level.

Consider the amount of street level coverage Google has provided by manually driving vans around the USA and the rest of the world, and then remove need for a human driver, increase the speed and add three dimensional space with it’s lack of traffic signals, greater space and point to point navigation.

Privacy may become similar to music and movies. The RIAA and MPAA are trying to enforce a value system that worked before digital media became instantly reproducible and redistributable. What if we find ourselves trying to enforce a societal value system that worked before information about individuals became instantly and always available?

Eric Schmidt’s comments back in ’09 that “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” may prove to be the new social norm we live by 100 years from now.