I heard a report on NPR about an auto insurance company giving drivers the options of putting GPS tracking devices on their vehicles to lower insurance rates by as much as 30%. The idea is that, for example, the device could confirm to the insurance company that the car wasn't being used in high risk situations, such as commute traffic. Safe driving situations would be rewarded with lower rates.

This made me wonder how much money could be saved by creating an entire city with no privacy except in the bedroom and bathroom. I will stipulate in advance that you do not want to live in such a place because you're an urban pirate. You want the freedom to do "stuff" that no one ever finds out about.  I get it. This is just an economic thought experiment.

Although you would never live in a city without privacy, I think that if one could save 30% on basic living expenses, and live in a relatively crime-free area, plenty of volunteers would come forward.

Let's assume that residents of this city agree to get "chipped" so their locations are always known. Everyone's online activities are also tracked, as are all purchases, and so on. We'll have to assume this hypothetical city exists in the not-so-distant future when technology can handle everything I'm about to describe.

This city of no privacy wouldn't need much of a police force because no criminal would agree to live in such a monitored situation. And let's assume you have to have a chip to enter the city at all. The few crooks that might make the mistake of opting in would be easy to round up. If anything big went down, you could contract with neighboring towns to get SWAT support in emergency situations.

You wouldn't need police to catch speeders. Cars would automatically report the speed and location of every driver.  That sucks, you say, because you usually speed, and you like it. But consider that speed limits in this hypothetical town would be much higher than normal because every car would be aware of the location of every other car, every child, and every pet. Accidents could be nearly eliminated.

Healthcare costs might plunge with the elimination of privacy. For example, your pill container would monitor whether you took your prescription pills on schedule. I understand that noncompliance of doctor-ordered dosing is a huge problem, especially with older folks.

Without privacy you would also begin to build a database of which drugs are actually working and which ones have deadly side effects. Every patient's history would be meticulously and automatically collected. The same goes for detailed diet and exercise patterns. Healthcare today involves an alarming amount of educated guesswork. In time, with a total lack of privacy, we'd know precisely which kinds of choices have better health outcomes.

Now imagine that your doctor has a full screen of your DNA so together you can modify your lifestyle or healthcare choices to avoid problems for which you are prone. This city would need to have universal healthcare to make this work. No one would be denied coverage because of an existing or potential condition.

Employment would seem problematic in this world of no privacy. You assume that no employer would hire someone who has risky lifestyle preferences, or DNA that suggests major health problems. But I'll bet employers would learn that everyone has issues of one kind or another, so hiring a qualified candidate who might later become ill will look like a good deal. And on the plus side, employers would rarely hire someone who had a bad employment record, as that information would not be as hidden as it is today. Bad workers would end up voluntarily moving out of the city to find work. Imagine a world where your coworkers are competent. You might need a lack of privacy to get to that happy situation.

Public transportation would be cheap in this city of no privacy. Once you know where everyone is, and where everyone wants to go, you can design a system that has little wasted capacity. That means lower costs.

Now let's say that your house is aware of your location and even your patterns of activities. Smart systems in the home can turn off your lights whenever a room is unoccupied, power down your computer as needed, and generally manage your power consumption smartly. And if you insisted on being an energy hog, your neighbors would be aware of it. Studies have shown that peer pressure has a huge impact on conservation. It's not as bad as it sounds; if your neighbor is elderly, and using a lot of energy for extra heating, you would understand. In most cases your neighbor's excessive energy use would have a perfectly good explanation.

At tax time, you'd be done before you started. All of your financial activities would be tracked in real time, so your taxes would always be up to date.

Advertisements would transform from a pervasive nuisance into something more like useful information. Advertisers would know so much about your lifestyle and preferences that you would only see ads that made perfect sense for your situation.

This lack of privacy would extend to businesses as well, although the better description in this case would be transparency. As a consumer, you'd know where to get the best prices. You'd know how long the wait is at your favorite restaurant. And you'd know how every consumer felt about his experience with every business.

When you considered applying for a new job, you'd have access to the latest employee opinion survey for that business. Bad employee practices would be driven out and best practices would more easily spread.

Confusopolies wouldn't be tolerated in this city. Confusing pricing plans are a weasel method of hiding information from consumers. If a company wants to offer cell phone service, or insurance, or banking, in this city they have to meet standards for pricing clarity.

On the personal side of things, a complete surrendering of privacy means it's always easy to locate and hook up with people who have similar interests and similar schedules. Dating, and every other social activity would become far easier. And cheating would be nearly impossible.

You worry about the slippery slope of zero privacy. The government could easily abuse this information. But that problem is somewhat minimized because the situation is limited to a single city, and the residents can simply leave if they don't like how things are going.

I know you don't want to live in that city. I'm just curious what sort of price, in economic terms, and in convenience and in social benefits, we pay for our privacy. My guess is that it's expensive.
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Jun 22, 2011
> Advertisements would transform from a pervasive nuisance into something more like useful information. Advertisers would know so much about your lifestyle and preferences that you would only see ads that made perfect sense for your situation.

People have been saying this since 1999. I still get untargeted ads and Facebook knows everything about me (so does Gmail). Maybe it's because something that will be worked out hasn't been worked out yet, or maybe it's because selling is all about how much someone is willing to pay to try to get my eyeballs and not how "targeted" the ad is towards me. It's NOT because of a lack of data.
Jun 22, 2011
By the way, what you're imagining sounds very close to the real Singapore.
Jun 22, 2011
How do you know that criminals wouldn't move to a place with no privacy? If there are no cops (hence no chance of getting caught) then it's no longer a Nash equilibrium to commit zero crimes.
Mar 19, 2011
The problem with DNA privacy is that you can't opt out of it. Government regulations stipulate the privacy measures that must be applied to genetic data, whether the person wants it or not.

We have spent $40 million dollars of tax money gathering DNA sequences that are not of much use to use, because we don't know the phenotypes of the people they came from, because of "privacy" issues. The people involved were not allowed to opt out of privacy and provide their data!

Similarly, 23andme.com gathers genetic information on many people, and does their own experiments with that data; but they won't provide the data to anyone else. When you sign up with them, you give them permission to use their data. But there's no way to say, "I want you to give other people my data too."
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 18, 2011
Scott, you're wrong. Not politician with no clue wrong, but engineer with an oversized idea stuck in his head wrong. You're attributing to lack of privacy posive benefits that aren't intrinsically connected to that.

I started to write a long point-for-point rebuttal, but instead I'll start the counter from principles and leave the detailed consequences as an excercise.

We made privacy a right because it is a freedom that grants us protection.

And we need that protection because people with unchecked power inevitably abuse that power. You're stripping away the first line of defence against that, and aren't strengthening what's left, nor are you providing for redress or even ways to seek it.

Your thought experiment might, possibly, in a perfect world, work that way for a while. But as soon as it goes awry, it'll go bad big. The only way out is to get out of noprivacyville; lose all friends and family and rebuild elsewhere.

And the thing is, most of the things you cite as benefits can be had without loss of privacy. So the price you're paying is excessive from the start, and runs a big systemic risk of becoming unbearable.

Plenty of people feel that in their gut. Plenty others don't. They still say "but surely you have nothing to hide?" or even the more insidious "but *I* don't have anything to hide!". They, too, are dead wrong. But the thing is, loss of privacy only starts to hurt when it's far too late to do anything about it. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there's no putting it back. If information is out on the streets, or in gigantic stasi-like data warehouses, then what?

Do you really want to live a life like the dark side of being a celebrity where the paparazzi are the upholders of the law and without the fringe benefits? I don't. I don't even believe it'll be cheaper. The crime might drop, then grow far more insiduous, possibly down to not being detected. Is that really "safer", or is that just an eggregious example of deluding yourself?
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 17, 2011
The lure of money savings in exchange for something precious is always a ruse. Economies always find a set point which is the point at which the price of everything needed to live a comfortable life is just barely affordable to most people. In time the economy in your brave new world will reset and the cost savings your speaking of will be out the window. That, and you'll have no freedom. No thanks.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 17, 2011
The only part I dislike is about having a chip in my body...I guess it is unnecessary. Noprivacyville may have as many video cameras as needed everywhere and everyone may be identified with optical retina recognition or something like that, like in Tom Cruise's movie "Minority report".

Some posts are worried about politicians or government not having the same no-privacy as everyone, however, as I understood the original post, absolutely everybody living on that city has no-privacy at all.

I guess even the bathroom and the bedroom should be no-private, and have AI technology to blur whatever has to be hidden and not allow that piece of information to everybody but to criminal investigation or something like that.
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 17, 2011
Hasn't the USA already traded personal privacy for the illusion of safety? Maybe not to the extent you describe here, but certainly people seemed generally willing to give up their freedom from unreasonable searches and detainment and a whole bunch of other previously-sacred freedoms if only the government would save them from terrorists.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 17, 2011
"Because you opt-in to location aware apps, numerous companies already know where you are at all times. Because you use gMail, Google knows what you talk about. Because you agreed to Facebook's TOS, most of what you chat about with friends is known to, well, any developer who uses their API."

The difference is that it is not enforced. I'm not on Facebook and if I would, I would not use it for personal conversations. I did not opt-in to any map. I can chose what to expose to the public, the model that Scott talks about does not leave that choice, other than leaving the city.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 17, 2011
Because you opt-in to location aware apps, numerous companies already know where you are at all times. Because you use gMail, Google knows what you talk about. Because you agreed to Facebook's TOS, most of what you chat about with friends is known to, well, any developer who uses their API.

As a society, we've already taken the first steps towards this city. And no one seems to care. I don't. On the surface I'm annoyed that I post a Facebook update and 10 seconds later I see a gmail add relating to the exact subject I was posting about. Then again, I would rather see an add so highly targeted than one that has no relevance to my life. Those who !$%*! about this city might as well move to the wilderness and be-friend the bears. This is the future. Hell, it's practically the present.
Mar 17, 2011
oooh oooh this new noprivacyville sounds so cool to me where can i sign up. bwahahahaha. First I will run for mayor. then with all the wealth of information on everyone i will start manipulating opinions. eg. since i know some citizens like being hugged my workers will hug them before asking them to do something they normally wouldnt do. slowly the whole population will turn into my sheep ready for slaughter.
Mar 16, 2011
I think my favorite line is, "But I'll bet employers would learn..." I laughed and thought to myself, "I wonder if this guy's ever read Dilbert..."
+20 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 16, 2011
Alas, Scott is being simplistic here.

1. His model ignores the power of sousveillance (the power to see from below) to counter the oppressive effects of surveillance ((being observed from above.) We rightfully fear the latter. We tend to forget that the former has been key to the enlightenment for 250 years.

In his city, if EVERYONE can see, the lack of crime will include lack of oppression from above. Authorities may be able to see you (you won't prevent that anyway; show me how)... but they can't DO anything to you without it being seen by all. That means you can say whatever you like and that is the core essence of freedom.

2. Scott weights the argument by allowing us only the bedroom and bathroom. But legally, your "curtilage" includes your whole house.

3. Now here's the strange thing that I talk about in The Transparent Society. In restaurants, people can lean in to eavesdrop, but they don't.... because they'll get caught doing so and it is shameful. In NOPRIVACYVILLE... guess what? People, human beings, will want a bit of privacy and will mostly get it! Because peeping toms will be CAUGHT spying on their neighbors. (Remember you can see them too, as in a restaurant.) And you can tell on the putzy little voyeur. You can tell his MOM! And people will use this power to make others back out of their personal space.

Work it out. We already do this - using two way visibility to make others back off and not stare... when you are minding your own business. It works in our world. It will work in a world where we all can see much better.

For more see The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? (It won the Freedom Of Speech Award of the American Library Association.) WHen you do, look especially at page 206!

Here's to a confident civilization

With cordial regards,

David Brin
Hugo winning author of THE POSTMAN, and EARTH
Mar 16, 2011
The whole premise of noprivacyville rests on a false assumption that somehow more information => better decisions.

You think a doc or an employer can make a better decision on just because he knows my life inside out ... helloooooo ... we are dealing with an irrational human brain ... something you wrote on it yourself ...

i agree, if the wiring of the brain can change to make decisions and to handle enormous amount of data that results from no-privacy ... then, may be, we will save money ... else .... we will gossip more, for sure ...

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 16, 2011
Kinda like the book "The Light of Other Days".

The basic premise is that, after time travel is invented, privacy is eliminated because anyone can view any other persons past actions.

Religion also takes a hit, as people research whether some stuff actually happened.

And Politics disappears completely.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 16, 2011
I would be willing to live in "Noprivacyville" if the same transparency applied to public figures, the government and businesses. i.e., all the !$%*!$%* in the community, not just the individuals.

Privacy is kind of like the nudity taboo. If everyone is naked, it becomes the norm. If individuals are naked in daily life but the politicians and companies walk around with their clothing on, so to speak, it just won't work.
Mar 16, 2011
To the people who think that the car insurance companies are going to use the information as an excuse to jack up your rates to unreasonable numbers, I don't think you fully grasp the implications of this scenario. Lets say that Insurance Company A thinks they can make unreasonable demands because you went through a stop sign last month. By "unreasonable" I mean that they are demanding payment of a fee that pads their profit margin significantly. As soon as this happens, Insurance Company B, who has access to all of the same information as well as the fact that Insurance Company A thinks highway robbery is OK, can offer you a rate slightly less than highway robbery. Eventually, Insurance Company N is going to be willing to earn just enough to make you worth their time. Conversely, Insurance Company X may make you a deal that is too good to be true, and you will know because their numbers will show they may not be able to pay a claim if you make one. So, not only can they not overcharge you, you would have to be sure that you are paying enough!
Mar 16, 2011
Count me in! I cant wait for this place to open.

'Course, I wont have one of them chip things or be a participant in the neo-hippy commune you describe. I'll be one of the many criminal elements that will come to your city to prey on its naive and idiotic inhabitants. The others and I will sneak in through the trash trucks, the food trucks, the repair guy trucks, by digging tunnels under the wall and the moat or even dropping in with a parachute. You're a fool if you think you can prevent my type from entering your city. After all, who do you expect to mow the lawn, pick up the garbage or cook in your restaurants. You think the US has a problem with illegal immigration? You aint seen nothin' yet.

Once in your city, we'll pilfer identity information and profile your citizens via their own activities. We'll use both tried and true schemes to defraud your citizens and businesses, as well as invent new ways. With the kind of data you're going to make available we'll have a whole host of new opportunities. It'll make stealing from a bank even more trivial than it already is.

So, please, please, please do make this place and be sure to advertise well so that lots of people with lots of money decide to move there. The more victims, the more money, the more incentive, the more crime, the mo' betta'.
Mar 16, 2011
I would not live in Noprivacyville. I am completely open to having every aspect of my life public, but only public to those who reciprocate.

I would love Noprivacynation though. Not only a city but an entire autonomous state where all the public people are only accountable to other public people and they work together to have joint privacy from all the other non-transparent states.

However, we don't get to choose. No matter what we want, surveillance tech is going to get so good that you cannot keep anything to yourself. Smaller, easier to hide. even mobile--that hummingbird robot is going to be a fruit fly robot in no time. So some people, people with resources or fiat or both are going to be able to know pretty much anything about anyone.

Either some people can see what everyone is doing or all people can see what everyone is doing. There is no option of privacy. Really good book that I'm surprised no one has mentioned in this thread is "The Transparent Society" by David Brin where he makes the argument I presented in the preceding paragraph in much more detail.
+21 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 16, 2011
I have a compromise most people would agree with.

Individuals retain their privacy and we eliminate privacy for people in positions of public trust;
All government employees, elected, appointed, and hired. This would include all law enforcement officers and court officials.
All officers and board members of public corporations.

These individuals are given special powers and privileges and use of public resources. It stands to reason they would have to give up something or else they will inevitably become corrupt (exactly like things are now).
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