“Life is a mixture of hindsight, followed by perspective.”

Most of us have reflected on their lives and wondered ‘what if i had done something different?

If only we could look into the future and predict what will happen, we would either be rich or foolish, or both!

Alan Kay, a well know computer scientist once said: ‘We cannot predict the future, but we can invent it’.

In 2002, I was asked to talk about ‘the next big thing in information security’, and instead of just talking about the latest developments, I decided to try and see if I could envision what may happen over the next 10 years. I came up with 6 suggestions, the loss of privacy being one of them:

  1. The rise of Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
  2. Widespread corporate use of instant messaging
  3. The convergence of information warfare and information security
  4. Cyber terrorism and direct energy weapons
  5. Emergence of holographic storage, quantum cryptography or artificial intelligence
  6. The loss of privacy

The loss of privacy and liberties often begins with the reduction of civil rights in a time of crisis. In 2002, the general consensus was that due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11, we would start seeing an erosion of privacy due to an increase in anti-terrorism legislation (US Patriot Act etc.), and the start of the ‘surveillance state’.

What has also happened is due to the rise of social media, which has made the majority of people sleepwalk into privacy apathy. This is partly due to a social media apartheid and the fear of social segregation: In order to feel part of society, our friends and family, we feel compelled to give our privacy away. We conform to what is generally seen as socially acceptable behaviour, without realising the consequences. Psychologists call this social proof, or informational social influence, where people assume the actions of others around them in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour and social acceptance.

Social media is all about feeding your ego and promoting your ‘personal brand’, but this also drives the behaviour to relinquish your privacy. This need for social acceptance, as well as the disclosures of the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that mass surveillance has been happening for a number of years, has exposed that privacy is an illusion in a digital age, where everything is known about your online activity by various government agencies.

Have we sleepwalked into a world with no privacy without realising? Distracted by the threat of legislation, when we should have been looking at social media, have we invented a future where privacy does not exist? And does it really matter?

Like most things privacy is a matter of perspective. Ask people whether they do care that the government can read their emails? The answer is generally ‘no, I have nothing to hide’. Ask them the same question again, but this time ask whether they do care that their wives/husbands/daughters/sons etc. can read their email? Most will hesitate in answering. Unless it directly impacts on your life, you are more likely to be indifferent to privacy concerns.

Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we have ended up here with hardly a fight.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

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