Privacy Advisor

PRIVACY IN POPULAR CULTURE: Privacy Is “More Complicated Than We Realized”

August 23, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

When Shel Israel and Robert Scoble started looking into their second book together, Age of Context: How Mobile, Sensors and Data Will Change Your Life, it was because “we’re enthusiasts of new technology,” said Israel. As Rackspace’s start-up liaison officer, Scoble has gained wide renown in tech circles for his Scobleizer blog and Twitter handle. Israel is maybe best known for his writings for Forbes, where he looks at “the ever-evolving tech industry.”

So maybe their initial impressions of privacy should not be surprising: “We joked that people ought to get over it,” Israel said with a laugh. “But the more we listened, the more deeply we realized that we don’t really have a choice about what’s coming.”

And what’s coming are some very difficult questions about privacy. Scientists are already looking into using brainwaves as a sort of wireless communication with devices, for example. “It will be great when we hop in the shower,” Israel said, “and you just think, ‘This water is too warm,’ and it cools down two degrees. But what about when you’re looking at someone and you think, ‘I don’t like this guy and I want to kill him’; will my brain rat me out to the local police? This is pretty scary. This is beyond George Orwell…I’ve never been one of those advocates who thinks there are some things we shouldn’t do, but it’s pretty freaky, and we think this technology has already crossed well over the freaky line.”

What can be done about it? Scoble and Israel don’t claim to be privacy professionals, but they did dedicate a chapter of their book to how business may be able to solve some of these privacy questions and they’re offering it for download here, free to Advisor readers. Further, they’re interested in your feedback. You can e-mail Israel here.

“As we started investigating this book,” he said, “everywhere we looked we stumbled on the issue of privacy.” From digital personal assistants assuming you’re in a relationship with someone you’re not to nanotechnology informing your insurance provider of your health updates to black boxes in cars sending your speed to the cops, there’s a privacy question associated with nearly every new technology, most of them designed to actually help the consumer. 

“Robert is one of the world’s greatest embracers of new projects,” Israel said, “and he started out looking at privacy as the mutterings of old men, but he’s the one who started to step back and see things very differently…We’ve got to have some controls. And we need the right to go private now and then.”

Those businesses that provide those controls, and that ability to go private, Israel and Scoble believe, will be the winners in the future economy. “We’re going into an age where everything that we want to use already has competition,” Israel said. “You can fight feature wars, but features will just keep leapfrogging each other, and we’re not going to switch from one service to another just based on a feature. We’ll stick with the companies we trust and want to have relationships with. We think trust—how you value my privacy—will be the differentiating factor. More than price, actually, since everything is basically free now.”

Scoble and Israel will give a keynote address at IAPP Privacy Academy, in Seattle, WA, September 30 to October 2. Age of Context will be available for the first time at the academy. If you’d like to preorder the book, contact Israel here and he’ll knock $5 off the cover price of $25.

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
PricewaterhouseCoopers Exploring Privacy Roles
PRIVACY IN POPULAR CULTURE: Talking With Cullen Hoback, Director of Terms and Conditions May Apply

First PCLOB Meeting’s Ideas for USA PATRIOT Act; FISA Improvements May Affect Interaction with Private Industry
The Future of Data Dealer Is in the Balance