There are bad things happening with regard to our personal privacy right now. Many people don’t see anything wrong with them and many people feel no discomfort about them. Twenty years ago, the same was true of climate change. It took a long time to disseminate the dangers of climate change. It will also take a long time to disseminate the dangers of our privacy erosions.
We are taking part in an unavoidable and tragic pincer movement between the technology industry and our governments. We assume that privacy doesn’t matter because we implicitly assume we always have the choice to switch off, leave our phones behind and be private. Be private and offline or be online and observed.
Someday within our lifetimes, the technology industry will, with the best of intent, take that choice away. Someday soon, the proliferation of internet-enabled devices will flip the paradigm. We will be observed at all times, online at all times. We will have no privacy unless we pro-actively seek it out and we may lose the ability even to do that. At the very least we will be conspicuous by our absence.
Among those of us who see the problem looming there is a belief that we can reason and debate our way to making this issue go away. However we need to do far more than that. We have to change things such that people who don’t care and aren’t aware want it to go away too. We have to make them feel the danger. We have to market fear.
Try convincing someone that climate warming was real and that a gas-guzzling V12 engine was bad 20 years ago - good luck to you. Good luck trying to convince anyone to pay a premium for a battery powered car. It would never have happened.
It took 20 years of education, celebrity endorsements, films like “An Inconvenient Truth” and acres of data for people to finally develop an awareness (albeit generally a slightly retarded awareness) of what was happening with global warming. It wasn’t the data that made people want to change though - it was fear for what may come and desire for the now chic options which might avoid it - the Prius’, Teslas and carbon-neutral flying.
We face exactly the same problem with privacy. The NSA knows the implications and a subsection of the public knows the implications but that subsection is tiny. The vast majority of people don’t understand the implications but more importantly they don’t feel there’s a problem. Even if we convince them there are implications they won’t do anything until they *feel* them. That is something different.
No government is going to change anything until they feel that there is something wrong. Every sale starts with emotion and only ends with logic. we’re trying to tackle this problem the wrong way around - by starting with logic. We need to make politicians and the public feel the fear, feel the discomfort and only then offer them the logic to rationalise that fear and solve the problem.
If Google and Yahoo and Facebook are really serious about wanting to protect our privacy they could do so by marketing the implications of what happens when it goes away. They could to fund films, documentaries and even advertising. For years our governments have shamelessly marketed themselves into power using fear. Now we need to market our rights using the same tools back.
When the politicians and the public start feeling the consequences they will start wanting to act. They may never understand fully why they do that, the important thing is just that they do. You can’t always tell a child that something is dangerous, you have to show them it’s dangerous. You have to scare them.