Ten years ago I forecast that the concept of privacy would not survive the growing interests in mining the growing bonanza of personal information for commercial, security or espionage benefits. I termed this scenario ‘spy versus spy’, reflecting the fact that it’s not just Big Brother that wishes to exploit the vast amount of data that the Internet can generate.
Not everyone agreed. Some believed that the public would not stand by and watch their privacy disappear. So far they’ve been wrong. Nobody has been sufficiently motivated and empowered to halt the relentless march towards a surveillance state. Perhaps the new UK Government will intervene, though this would be against the global trend.
I’m disturbed though not surprised by the activities of companies such as Google, who boast that they aim to ‘do no evil’, yet seem to continuously ignore consumer privacy interests. The latest incident of ‘mistaken’ interception of wireless traffic might reflect a wider, modern enterprise culture that is focused on exploiting rather than satisfying customer relationships. The actions of individual staff speak louder than the gloss of media relations.
Where is it leading? The reality is that we have a super-abundance of data at our fingertips, and it’s too compelling to ignore. Unless governments intervene with strict rules and limits, it will be commercial suicide for marketing staff to resist. Let’s hope that Cameron and Clegg might harness the political will to shape a healthier digital environment. In the meantime I will continue to expect the worst but hope for the best.