Predicting the future ... with a grain of salt

Posted by Camilla Ibrahim on May 26, 2014

It is fantastically fun to ponder what lies ahead in the world of technology. Our imagination can quickly run wild in a spacey sci-fi world of robotics, hover-boards and teleportation. Sentiment is divided however, when it comes to discussions predicting the future. There is great excitement about technology’s enabling effects, and also overwhelming anxiety about loss of control and ‘matrix’ entrapment.


The Personal Information Economy 2014 conference, recently hosted by Ctrl-Shift in London, offered forum to address ‘the internet of things', and ignited our imagination about what we will wear, how we will share – and if it is fair. 


In this post, we reflect on three predictions raised about data security, with counter-arguments for further consideration:

1. The privacy premium: only the affluent and well-educated will know how to preserve their privacy in 2025.

This argument, which stems from a survey conducted by Elon University and the Pew Internet Project, posits that the internet will be so pervasive, embedded and invisible that online privacy will be a privilege reserved for the elite. 

A grain of salt: While this dystopian view of the future suggests that the internet will cause social injustice, advocates of the consumer empowerment movement put faith in the agency, intelligence and self-determination of all consumers to be able to take control of their data and improve their lives.  Moreover, the same report discusses the potential of big data to make people more aware of their world and their own behaviour. This increased access to information can in turn make people more informed and educated, blurring the categorisations of social strata (as also discussed by a research PhD candidate here).

2. Everyone will be sensors, making personal data widely detectable.

With the rise of ambient intelligence and biometric sensors (technology that responds to the physical presence and activity of people), there is concern that personal data stores will not be sufficient to safely secure data. According to this prediction, these stores will only satisfy ‘intentionally’ shared data, meaning data that is voluntarily provided by users to an intended recipient.  On the other hand, ‘unintentionally shared data’ (data that is gathered or leaked without the users intention or awareness) will be detectable and transferrable.

A grain of salt: Again, this point of view assumes that people are naïve and unaware, and that security advances will not catch up to protect personal data. It seems fair to claim that privacy settings will become more sophisticated and customisable as wearable technology becomes more widespread.
3. Consumers are ‘going dark’.

Another rather cynical prediction is that consumers will increasingly adopt blackout technology to preserve their data where regulation does not exist.  This technology (such as the BlackPhone) ensures encryption of texts, phone calls and anonymous browsing from your smartphone to ensure better mobile security. 

A grain of salt: While this technology may appeal to people wanting a low profile, it seems philosophically misaligned with the digital habits and behaviours of the broad majority of users today and in the future.  Looking at the current capabilities, this will demand a severe trade-off between your right to privacy and digital activities such as social media networking.

On another note, there are also reports that the Blackphone is susceptible to cyber attacks as it serves as a red flag to criminals, which could make the entire idea an #EPICFAIL.
In conclusion:

Predictions about the impact of inventions on our data protection, often have a fear-based assumption that technology is ‘out there’ and that we are in a reactive position.  We should perhaps have more faith in our role and security advances in consumer protection, to proactively shape the future as well as organically adjust to all possibilities. As Dennis Gabor stated in ‘Inventing the Future:  “The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.”

So, let’s gather at the roundtable and continue to think ahead, think critically, and with a balanced perspective.

But first things first, pass the salt please.

Topics: Thought Leadership

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