Privacy Fading Away

We do want privacy, but can we really expect to have it?

I’ve been listening to Episode 20 of the Private Citizen podcast today, and something Fabsch said about cash resonated with my thoughts on a more general topic. I don’t remember his exact words, but after he talked in detail about how cash was much better than banking with all those contactless payments from the privacy standpoint, he remarked that we’ll probably see cash used less and less—maybe even to the point of completely disappearing—however sad this might be.

This sentiment clicks with things I read and hear lately, and with some of my own thoughts, too. With all the progress of devices and software that we’ve seen lately, mass surveillance and systematic violations of our everyday privacy are not only very real and happening right now, they also become cheaper and more practical each day. Some authorities are reluctant to fully use—or at least admit that they use—the new surveillance technologies just yet, others already use them full scale. Moscow police openly admit it uses face recognition to detect and fine COVID-19–infected people that were ordered to stay home but didn’t. It’s already quite possible for a government or an organization wielding enough power and money to collect and analyze enormous amounts of data and track activities of any person of interest—and it looks like this barrier of “enough power and money” will be lowering with time. There’ll be more and more data about me and you out there, and when (no if here, only when, and the when is approaching fast) it becomes cheap enough to grab, it will be grabbed by someone.

I doubt any amount of legislation will protect us from our privacy being violated once such a violation becomes affordable enough. Where there is demand, there is offer, and demand isn’t going anywhere—with all the ad targeting, public opinion manipulation, and other lovely things you can do if you possess the necessary data. And the fact that privacy can rarely (if at all) be un-violated once it has been violated doesn’t help either.

We do love our privacy, but day after day our privacy is easier to violate and harder to keep. The question is: do we—realistically!—hope we can win this fight? Or is privacy something that is doomed to become a thing of history, together with sword fights and ink-on-paper personal letters?

If privacy is indeed going to vanish anyway, I think it’s time we embraced the fact and started learning to live without any illusions—trust a mental health professional, it’s much healthier that way. If, however, there is a way to revert the trends and keep our privacy (or at least some of it), I would really like to know what that way is, and how I personally can make sure I do all I can for us to follow it.