Is Privacy Too Expensive?

I don't know if you ever think about your privacy, but if you do, you realize that it is getting scarce - and maybe, expensive.

LAST year, I spent more than $2,200 and countless hours trying to protect my privacy.

Some of the items I bought — a $230 service that encrypted my data in the Internet cloud; a $35 privacy filter to shield my laptop screen from coffee-shop voyeurs; and a $420 subscription to a portable Internet service to bypass untrusted connections — protect me from criminals and hackers. Other products, like a $5-a-month service that provides me with disposable email addresses and phone numbers, protect me against the legal (but, to me, unfair) mining and sale of my personal data.

In our data-saturated economy, privacy is becoming a luxury good...

This quote is from an interesting recent NYTimes article ("Has Privacy Become a Luxury Good?").

Science fiction writers have thought about it - writers like Philip K. Dick was obsessed with it. For several hundred highly focused and relevant links, take a look at my section on Surveillance in Science Fiction. Here are some choice bits:

But I'm more interested in whether or not we can do something about it. Isaac Asimov described an anti-spying device in his 1951 novel Foundation.

Fans of William Gibson may recall that privacy was very expensive indeed in the world of his 1984 novel :

[He] saw that it was a solid sandwich of circuitry, nearly a centimeter thick. He helped the man lift it and position it in the doorway. Quick, nicotine-stained fingers secured it with a white velcro border. A hidden exhaust fan began to purr.

"Time," the man said, straightening up, 'and counting. You know the rate, Moll..."

"... we'll want full screen for as long as we want it."

"Hey, that's fine by the Finn, Moll. You're only paying by the second."

They sealed the door behind him, and Molly turned one of the white chairs around and sat on it, chin resting on crossed forearms. "We talk now. This is as private as I can afford."
(Read about Gibson's privacy screen)

I don't think I recall any sf authors (or anyone) predicting that we ourselves would be the source of the problem. The biggest cost to privacy today is what you'd need to give up to have the privacy you wanted:

  • No cell phones
    They track your position to within a hundred feet or so. And of course there is the metadata from your phone calls, not to mention the content of the calls. Add to that your texting, pictures and so forth.
  • No credit cards
    Your credit card transactions provide endless trackable bits of information about you and about how your tastes have evolved over your adult life, not to mention where you've lived and traveled.
  • No cities, no towns
    Too many CCTV cameras associated with businesses, ATMs, gas stations, etc.
I'm sure there are many other examples.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/5/2014)

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