Privacy on the Internet is a perception of safety from exploitation and embarrassment resulting from the use of one’s personal information.
And it's disappearing rapidly.
Third-wave, knowledge-based societies have quickly realized that if they use the Internet, virtually all of their personal information is available and has become a commodity that is analyzed, bought, sold, and traded.
The primary concern then becomes about what it’s being used for and by whom. As a result, security is becoming the primary issue surrounding privacy, and control of personal information is increasingly important to many people. Anonymity is another area that remains an important aspect of online privacy, but even that can be easily exposed.
In the future, we will continue to experience an erosion of privacy, because as the value of an individual’s network grows, the level of privacy will decline. Eventually, privacy as we know it today will disappear completely, particularly when it comes to the ability to control one’s personal information.
Corporations are collecting as much information as they can get their hands on, and yet many consumers are not aware of how carefully they are tracked and analyzed by private enterprises. Advertising models such as “behavioral targeting” maximize revenues from select customers, using data acquired from multiple sources and deployed without customer knowledge.
People sense that they have lost control over their privacy. They are right. Outmoded laws and sketchy “privacy policies” have led to a situation in which people do not trust private companies or the government to protect their interests.
Additionally, as technologies become more effective and personal information becomes more readily available, private data is becoming increasingly public. For example, we are becoming a mobile society relying on PDAs and cellphones, most with GPS functionality. When advertising becomes a mix of companies tracking your current location and using your personal information to send you customized ads, will you consider it invasive -- or convenient?
Your answer may depend on how old you are or how involved you already are in the “network.” Nonetheless, the definition of privacy continues to progress or deteriorate, depending on your point of view, as our society fully embraces the transition from a closed to an open, knowledge-based society.
With the future almost upon us, this transition is bringing an end to privacy as we know it. Those who accept that will have opportunities to create value for themselves by taking advantage of the use of their private information, ranging from getting targeted discounts that are relevant to their interests to becoming innovators of personalized products.
Those who don’t accept a new concept of privacy will have to self-regulate what they put on the Internet, either through restricting access or limiting the type of information they publish.
In addition, consumers will demand more transparency by having direct access to the collecting organizations’ databases to learn and possibly correct information related to them. Either way, understanding that governments and corporations will obtain, evaluate, and utilize your personal data is a good first step toward accepting what the near future of privacy is going to be.
— Carl S. Kaminski specializes in strategy development, technology management, and organizational change at Toffler Associates