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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Mar 15, 2011
@jakesdad Insurance companies get away with that because they accuse the policy holders of having false or incomplete records when they applied. Without privacy that won't be possible because all of that information is publicly available and there won't be a legitimate reason for the users to supply that information in the first place.

I've always been a proponent of tracking all cars on the road because I think it eliminates the political motivation for handing out tickets. That is, if everyone is tracked no one speeds and no one profits from the fines paid. I would speculate that if that went away that cars capable of driving themselves would be one step closer to reality.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 15, 2011
Would the "smart" advertisements be smart enough to figure out that I will NEVER purchase an item advertised to me, purely out of spite and even when I really need the item in question? If so, would it function in such a way that all such ads were programmed to automatically blank out in my presence for fear of costing the client a sale?

That would be smart advertising :-) I already have a milder form of this policy in place... the more an ad annoys me, due to inanity, its level of ubiquitousness, or being targeted at IQs fifty points below my own, the less likely I am to ever purchase whatever it is touting. Even if i could really, really use a Cheese Centrifuge (tm).
Mar 15, 2011
You have created a situation where some people have "proof" of being good citizens and others don't, even there is no reason to believe that the people who lack the proof are in fact any less good.

Unless this city was absolutely limited to a single isolated instance, what would happen in real life is that big business would start making it very difficult for people not to either move to your city or to adopt your city's rules for their own.

Real life example: where I live, in France, real estate agencies now get insurance against a defaulting renter. If I'm renting an apartment and I stop paying rent, it's the insurance that pays. There's no risk to the agency.

This was meant to make the life of real estate agencies easier, and it worked.

But, what happened over a very short time is that insurance companies started to refuse to insure any renter who didn't have a long-term work contract. If you're a freelancer, a student, sick or unemployed, you can (almost) forget about renting an apartment through an agency -- they can't get insurance for your rent, and their business model has evolved to one that doesn't include taking the risk that you won't pay your rent.

The agency I rent through, despite the fact that I had already rented from them for five years without a single late payment and proof that I had 30,000 euros in the bank, required an 8000 euro deposit to renew my rental contract on a 300-euro-a-month apartment. This is not exceptional.

Here, people who don't have written long-term work contracts are the equivalent of those who live outside your city. People who do have contracts live in your city -- possessing "proof" that they are good citizens they get the benefits.

To answer your question: the price that one pays to live in this city is the enormous loss of justice that comes when people's lives are greatly restricted by factors over which they often have no control.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 15, 2011
GPS for insurance has merit in principle but would be abused in practice. what would happen is they (insurers) would happily collect premiums for yrs until you had a clam then query the database & tell you: "WHOA!!! three years ago you went 57 in a 55 - denied/cancelled!". and before anyone tries to tell me I'm cynical/paranoid that's EXACTLY what health insurers do every day to individual policy holders!
Mar 15, 2011
I, too, would love to live in this city...
As long as corrupt access of this data was secured somehow - like I would get daily reports of who looked at my data, what specifically did they view, for how long, what company they worked for, and have access to all their information just as they had access to mine.
Mar 15, 2011
Odd. I just read this NetworkWorld interview with Richard Stallman. Maybe you should ask him what he thinks of your idea...

Cell phones are 'Stalin's dream,' says free software movement founder
Mar 15, 2011
I have to say. I am one of the people who would want to live in this city. If only because I wouldn't have to carry (and lose) my wallet. I've been telling people for years that I can't wait to get chipped. Maybe that means I am boring since obviously I have nothing to hide, or maybe I am an exhibitionist...either way, sounds great!
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