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« Welcome to the monoculture | Main | Entropy, bureaucracy and the fight for great »

What happens to privacy?

People don't care about privacy as much as they care about being surprised.

Most people have used credit cards for decades—giving the credit card company tons of intimate data about their habits. We go to doctors and therapists and tell them our detailed medical and emotional histories. That's all fine because we believe we know exactly what's going to happen to the information. When we're surprised and a promise is broken, we're (rightly) furious.

If people actually cared about privacy (no one knowing what they do) then we would have given up on most connected activities generations ago. No, we were fine with some people knowing, as long as we realized who those people were (and what those uses were) in advance.

The outrage over privacy leaks and snooping is largely because it comes as a surprise. It's not what we signed up for and not what we expected. As marketers and governments continue to intrude, though, less privacy will become the new normal. Ask any teenager... few of them are particularly surprised or upset that they're leaving a trail online, it's always been that way for them.

Now that we've been desensitized, expect a huge stampede of apps, services and technologies that monetize and quantitize things that we used to think of as off limits. They won't tiptoe, they will leap, because the race is on to create value from information that used to be invisible. 

The thing about surprising people is that once you do it, you can't do it again and again. As surprise fades, people will come to tolerate and then (eventually) look forward to organizations using the data we used to believe would never be used.

[Here's one scenario to give you a sense of how big the shift will be. When just 1% of all cars have a networked dashboard camera in use, then virtually every car and every driver will be under constant surveillance. When you cut someone off or run a stop sign, the system will know. Good drivers will take advantage of the information that's created to get much better prices on their insurance (why shouldn't they?) which will completely transform both the insurance industry and the safety of driving. We've always been awash in data about how everyone drives, but until now, it's never been collected and turned into information, and that information has value.  Like it or not, the Wild West mentality of 'eat my dust' will be replaced by a privacy-free world of connected driving. Multiply this by healthcare, white collar work productivity and retail behavior and you quickly see a brave, new world.]

Who cares about privacy is a little like the weather. You can care about it, but it's not clear there's much you can do once surprise goes away and the engines of commerce and power kick in.

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