“Privacy as we’ve known it is ending”…really? Only for some

The following NY Times article floated into my in-box via CB Insights’ newsletter – CB Insights is one of the leading VC and start-up online sources, and has a very lively newsletter!

I hope CB Insights’ editor won’t mind me reproducing his brief description of the article, as his praise of the journalistic skill-set, which includes searching of course, is heart-warming:

“Unrelated to tech but if you missed the NY Times piece about wealthy foreign buyers buying up the Time Warner Center while trying their best to hide their identities, it is amazing journalism. I cannot get my head around the research, writing, editing, and design skills to do this. Mind blowing”.

The journalism referred to above demonstrates what I’d call disruptive searching skills in action. At least they would be disruptive if anyone was going to do anything about what the article reveals. Thus, the article itself illustrates a profound lack of disruptive searching as the property owners and legislation turn a blind-eye to whoever might be behind a “shell company” purchasing real estate. They don’t know where the money comes from, they don’t want to know and have no legal obligation to find out.

The Disruptive Searcher doesn’t often lose her rag, but all this seems thunderingly ironic to me when you have a front cover feature on Science magazine claiming “the end of privacy“. The oft-heard voice-of-doom continues: “Privacy as we have known it is ending, and we’re only beginning to fathom the consequences”. Well, perhaps, in some ways, for sure, but in reality privacy is selectively ending – greatly diminishing for the common man, but certainly not for everyone. The NY Times article makes it all too clear that privacy is nowhere near ending for those that need it to go about their dubious business. The laws just don’t touch them. And I’d bet my bottom dollar that the US isn’t the only place where this is happening.

We have a whole generation growing up being told that their digital footprint is vast and starts pretty much from day one. That our data profile is expanding all the time with little or no say from us – Science magazine cites examples such our entire genome being sequenced and shared by researchers around the world, our electronic medical records, flying cameras (aka drones) hovering over us, and facial recognition software coming to a store or an airport near you.

We have all this technology, some of which will spark new legislation, but for what end if none of it lands on the wealthy dodgy-dealers of organsied crime – where’s the disruptive data collection here? Where’s the disruptive searching followed by action that should expose them and stop their operations?

Why should we be expected to passively acccept/put up with all the data logging and monitoring, plus legislative changes (passed quickly on the back of the “national security” excuse) when there’s little clear evidence that “the ever-more borderless economy” will regain its borders or that legislation will be amended so that moving and hiding assets becomes subject to more scrutiny? It probably comes down to a very basic and ever-present reason – financial greed.

No point creating a huge compost heap of data unless you get the pichfork out, turn it over and do something with the steaming, festering, grubby stuff that’s quietly decomposing itself out of sight right at the bottom. Bring on disruptive searching that results in action for the common good.

Maybe one day, in the far off distant reaches of time…don’t hold your breath or your electronic medical record will tell everyone that you died of asphyxiation.

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