As I noted in an earlier post on Internet Evolution, American society must eventually deal with an ever-growing digital record of people’s lives.
How will we manage DTMI (digital too much information)?
With lots of information even more easily accessible, it will be easier for companies to limit the pool of acceptable employees. It will be easier for the FBI to investigate people and deny security clearances for any transgressions. It will be easier for insurance companies to reject applicants.
The effect of this will be profound. This generation could respond by changing its ways. They might be compelled to grow up very fast and stop acting like kids. That could have some very positive potential implications, such as lower rates of binge drinking, less drug use, lower rates of STDs, and the like. However, growing up without a true childhood has its own downsides. Plus, given how young people are, it seems more likely that kids will keep acting like kids.
Additionally, even profound behavioral changes will only scratch the surface of the problem. For example, people will still face real issues with the use of health-related data in the employment and insurance realms.
As a result, this generation might instead turn away from the Internet and technology. If privacy and data issues aren’t addressed, “Generation Facebook/Reddit/Spokeo/Twitter (FRST)” -- or GenFirst -- might stop using things like Google, Twitter, and Facebook that could put them at risk. That said, this generation is so Internet enmeshed that this too seems unlikely.
Even if a young person already has designs on higher office or corporate leadership (recall Bill Clinton knew he wanted to be president from the moment he shook Kennedy’s hand) and acts with great digital reserve, that doesn’t mean his friends won’t get him into trouble. Look at what happened to Vice President Biden’s daughter and Olympic Champion Michael Phelps. In today’s world, almost every cellphone is a possible paparazzi camera.
Alternatively, if this generation is not going to fundamentally change its behaviors or walk away from technology, we in American society may have to reconsider our attitudes to some degree. I highly doubt that the more unacceptable or “fringe” behaviors will ever become embraced, but we may find that we must loosen up a bit. American society may need to become a bit more “European” in its attitudes.
This shift may be facilitated by a shrinking number of individuals whose pasts are “clean” enough that they can freely criticize others without putting themselves at risk. Think of all the ministers and politicians who have been exposed for doing the very things that they decry. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” might take on a new, extremely real meaning when so much of our lives is now on the record.
Another possibility is that we will have to change how we look at and use all this information. As consumers, we could drive change with our mouse and wallet, avoiding Internet sites and applications that compromise privacy. We could demand that our leaders protect our privacy. The Congress and the President could enact new protections for personal data. However, data is big business, and the big industrial actors (like insurers and marketers) are not going to accept major limitations without a fight.
While it is impossible at this point to say how this will all play out, what is clear is that something is going to have to change. The Internet cannot live up to its full potential if the trend in the use and misuse of personal data continues.
— Robert Housman is Acting Executive Director and Chairman of the Board of the Cyber Secure Institute.