Imagine a future with no data privacy whatsoever. Imagine that the images from every video camera are public. Your health records, your web browsing history, your physical location at any moment, and even your financial records are public. We generally assume that having no privacy would be an awful thing. That's not the debate for today. Instead, imagine what types of spectacular apps you could have in a world with no privacy. Allow me to describe a few.

Assume in this imagined future that the cost of data storage continues dropping, and all data gets sent to the so-called cloud. That way, everyone has access to all of the data in the world all of the time.

Assume also that someday almost every space in the populated world has cameras that stream to the Internet. Cameras will someday cost about $1 apiece.

One hypothetical app in the no-privacy world would allow you to see the past and the future through your phone. Just point the camera app in any direction, specify the date you'd like to view, and your phone gives you a video replay of what was happening in your vicinity during that time. You could also use face recognition to search the past for someone specific and replay just the time that individual was in the room. Can't remember where you left your keys? No problem. Just replay the five minutes after you entered the room.

You could also see the future, in rough form, if you knew everyone's current location and speed via GPS, plus any reservations they booked, their Outlook calendar entries, their addresses, their Evite status, and more. Just open your map application, say a name and a time, and a dot will appear on the map for that person's predicted location. Now zoom in to street level to see the actual building.

How about a health scanner? Point your phone at a person and ask for a health scan. You'd instantly have access to the person's health records and lifestyle information. You'd know how much alcohol he purchases, how many cigarettes he buys, and how many times he visits the gym. You'd know age, family history, medical records, and more. Your screen would show the image of the person along with animated highlights of any actual or likely problem areas. 

Airport security would be a lot faster. Every person would be so thoroughly profiled by the system that an x-ray would be unnecessary for 99% of fliers.

Finding a mate would be easier. Just point your camera toward a crowd and it would highlight anyone who is a match.

Making conversation with strangers would be easier. You'd instantly know what you have in common with any other person. That's often all it takes to turn a stranger into a friend.

Imagine driving down the road and having access to the driving record of every other motorist. The risky drivers would be highlighted by the heads-up technology in your windshield. Give them a bit more room.

Privacy has its benefits, but you're giving up a lot of cool apps.

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Mar 21, 2011
Hey Scott, you may want to check an iPhone app that shares some of that vision. It's called Umanity. It allows you to see crowd-sources pictures taken at any place, at any point in time. You can also check out the website at www.umanity.in

Mar 7, 2011
WHOA. Seriously Scott, how do you get so smart? My brain is at its most stimulated point since--well, since I read your post about the space travels! That would be SWEET! (Both of them.)
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 4, 2011
This is always my favorite part: you working industriously to uncover yet another angle on taking all the guesswork out of dealing with people.

It's adorable. Makes me wanna give you a hug. And maybe a pint of tiger blood.
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Mar 3, 2011
Scary, Scott. What I see is exactly a big problem with the cloud today. For example, on this spokeo site......80% of the info about my household is wrong! The cloud is cool in that it gives me access to a lot of data....but it also gives me a lot of junk, and I need to enhance my skills at sorting reliability. Even today, if I want to buy a different car, I go to the cloud. And research, and research, and research...........and............"over analysis leads to paralysis." It is easier to just walk to where I am going.....I don't have to waste as much time.
Mar 1, 2011
There was a guy on NPR's Marketplace talking about privacy as being something of an historical anomaly. (Unfortunately I can't remember his name or exactly when it was to find the link to that episode.)

Historically most people lived in small communities where everyone knew each other and very little of what went on was truly private. Over the last few hundred years that has changed dramatically as more people moved into cities and everyone became lost in the crowd.

Recently the Internet came along made mass communication and sharing of information so easy that very soon privacy will essentially disappear again. Right now people are even voluntarily giving up their privacy as they create their own small communities online.

Mar 1, 2011
Privacy is becoming a thing of the past. Check out this web site - spokeo.com.

It is a stalker's gold mine!
Mar 1, 2011

(OT) Coincidentally I was just daydreaming about being able to offer Being John Malkovich style trips into Charlie Sheen's head. That has to be where the real money lies. I'd pay if anyone can sort it out.
Mar 1, 2011
The lengths people will go to in order to make their world predictable (and therefore safe? controllable?) amazes me. It's not the loss of privacy that I would mourn; it's the loss of serendipity, adventure, coincidence and that amazing moment when you 'click' with a new person in your life. Common interests are only a small portion of what makes a friendship work!

For potential mates, the loss of the excitement factor would be even worse! If you could see all that before you met someone, where's the fun? Where's the thrill of the chase? What would be the point in flirting if you know it's a given? It's the build up, the not-quite-knowing, the pants-wettingly-scariness - in short, the emotional investment - that makes the goal worth pursuing and all the more desirable. And of course more satisfying and wonderful if you should succeed.

Human are a social species - I wonder what the world would be like if you took away the need for social skills... I am not the greatest socialiser in the world by any stretch, but I recognise that as a personal weakness, and something that can be strengthened with practise. Take that all away and you would eventually end up with a bunch of adults with the social skills of shy children - and no one to teach them to be brave and independent and confident in their own judgement. Horrifying!
Feb 28, 2011
@ veti

You assume the data stream is in one place and corruptible.
What if it's distributed or locked down?
Feb 28, 2011
Robert J. Sawyer's Neanderthal Parallax
With the Neanderthal's "companions", arm computers that record everything around them.

is another one that deals with what you're talking about, "The Panopticon."

I for one welcome our distributed overlords (that's us). I would give up my personal privacy to erase crimes of secrecy: rape, corruption, murder, infidelity, lying, blackmail, protection rackets. It would basically put any type of (non community supported) organized crime out of business. And really if it's supported by the community then it's law, isn't it?

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 28, 2011
I thought of a few different, disparate responses:
- want to see what it's like to really lose your privacy? Move to China.
- I think it's easier to expect society having no privacy if you don't have much right now. Public figures, for instance, already deal with this now, so it's not much of a stretch to say "it's not that hard"
- I'm with some of the other people here who would gladly exchange privacy for convenience. But it's admittedly easier for someone who is a conformer to say this, than for an outlier.
Feb 28, 2011
I'm willing to trade *SOME* of my privacy for really cool apps. I don't want a camera in my bedroom.
Feb 28, 2011
You said that you weren't going to debate whether a lack of privacy would be bad, but then you explained exactly why it would be horrific. I guess that wasn't what you intended, unless you're using a non-standard definition of the word "cool" in your final paragraph, but that's how I see it.
Feb 28, 2011
Have you ever read the book "The Truth Machine"? Same idea, but less information input required. The premise is that technology has been developed that can detect a lie with 100% accuracy--while one could always choose not to divulge information, with this technology, one would always be suspect for doing so. Very interesting in terms of what might happen if something like this existed...
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Feb 28, 2011
Let's combine some other improving technologies to this scenario. With unlimited data storage and a better understanding of DNA, we could download someones DNA and synthesize a scent that is specific to them and allows us to have almost unlimited influence on there decisions.

More expensive apps would include creation and placement of false images and sales receipts to confuse those who may be interested in us. Lying to the doctor would be easier since you would never actually have to visit one just send your pertanant information (of if they look for it make sure it is false).

Insurers would nevery pay a claim again, medical every condition would be pre existant, liability would be perfectly applied. Okay maybe making litagators obsolete would be worth it...
Feb 28, 2011
I vote for privacy. I like lying to the doctor.
Feb 28, 2011
That's horrifying.

I would not want to live in a world like that. Cool apps are not worth your freedom.
-7 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 28, 2011
All that information available... what would occur to advertisements? Would they become more obnoxious or useful?
"maybe you can find answers here:
=== http://mcaf.ee/b5e0c ===

Feb 28, 2011
Just because something is on the internet does not make it so. Look at all the false personnel information listed on the various dating sites and social networks. We try to put our best (or most desirable face) in the public eye.
If you chose to ignore these on-line tools, you will be an unkown.
As for my health & financial information, that is personnel and should not be shared.
I have been the victim of identity theft and I come to value electronic privacy.
Even today, companies review individuals social network content to determine their suitability.
I think that in the end people will be less open electroncially - it is easy to get something on the web, it is difficult to correct mis-information.
Feb 28, 2011
What is more difficult to imagine is at least some if not all of that coming true one day, at least in some places if not everywhere. The interesting part is how we would get there from the society we have now and what extremes people would take to beat the system so they could carry on their particular crimes or deceptions. Of course, the part about predicting someone's future whereabouts for more than a very short period of time would depend upon that person being honest in their intentions, but that would tell you something about them, too.
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