Privacy In the Age of the Internet

Privacy In the Age of the Internet

Over two decades ago I was talking with one of my father's former employees who had gone on to create a very successful commercial media company. We were discussing the Internet and the future of advertising. This was the late 1990's when the Internet hype machine was in full swing.

John's prescient point was that advertising would be come a trade between the the consumer and the advertiser. Interested in buying a car, want to stream a movie? Then watch this 30 minute ad from Ford and get a free pay-per-view movie.

Twenty plus years later I am still impressed with how forward thinking this idea was. It did not quite take the exact form envisioned, but the basic idea is how we use the Internet works today and is the foundation of how companies like Google and Facebook make money. The exchange is not a one-to-one transaction as imagined two decades ago, rather we trade our privacy for ongoing access to information and service.

But what do we get for giving up our privacy? Convenience. I rarely take a taxi anymore Uber and Lyft are more convenient. I rarely pay with a physical credit card anymore Apple Pay is faster and easier. Order food from a restaurant over the phone? Nope. Placing the order via Grubhub/Seamless is quicker. I purchase commuter rail tickets on my phone and pay for Starbucks with an app. The list goes on and on.

Last week one of the Thanksgiving table discussions was the loss of privacy, but even the family friend who is the most "cash in the mattress" kind of guy I know has a mobile phone and a Gmail account. The idea that anyone of us has any privacy is a fantasy. As an information technology professional I know what it would take to regain my privacy and I am unwilling to give access to the conveniences that are available to me today, but this got me thinking...what would it take to have my cake and eat it too, to have some degree of privacy while still having access to goods, services and tools?