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Bye-bye privacy, hello Orwellian future

A new survey on the future of online privacy revealed experts are not in agreement regarding the future.

Experts agree on one thing – we are being watched! 
While experts do not have a shared vision of the future, they do agree on one thing – that people are constantly under surveillance today. As e-commerce continues to grow and social media gains new users everyday, online activity is being tracked, and personal information collected, so that tech companies can shape their products going forward.

CNN reported on the latest research from Pew's Internet Project, which involved collaboration with Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center. As per the report, a survey of more than 2,500 experts regarding their view of online privacy in the year 2025, revealed that opinions are mixed. Policy makers, futurists, researchers, professors and top executives were asked whether they thought there would be "a secure, popularly accepted and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025." Interestingly, 45 percent of survey respondents answered yes, and 55 percent answered no.

Common thread is that conceptions of privacy are changing
Tech News World pointed out that while the experts' answers were divided, there was a common theme. Despite opposing views, many believed that life in the public eye has become normal. Instead of seeing privacy as something that is meant to be safeguarded, it is increasingly viewed as a goal that one has to work for. Lee Rainie told TechNewsWorld that circumstances are changing.

"Privacy is an activity to be achieved in havens or in special circumstances with lots of effort. The default condition of humans in the post-industrial world is you're in public all the time."

Those with the pessimistic view, according to CNN, argued that a lack of incentive for governments and companies to self-regulate, as well as the challenges faced when creating a global privacy infrastructure, would impede any meaningful accomplishments. They also cited individuals' apathy concerning their own privacy as another reason why privacy would not be secured in 2025. Janna Anderson, director of Elon's Imagining the Internet Center, commented on the pessimistic view.

"Most experts believe that businesses and governments have little incentive to bolster privacy. This is, in part, because people have proven that they will give away personal information for something as small as a free cup of coffee," said Anderson, according to CNN.

Sharing information with tech companies is the new norm
It is easy to understand the pessimistic view. Consumers are increasingly sharing information with tech companies and retailers everyday, such as places they visit, shopping preferences, friends lists, political ideas and thoughts regarding almost anything and everything. CNN makes note that every search query, location check-in email and social media post is collected and analyzed by tech companies. 

Jerry Michalski, founder of the Relationship Economy eXpedition explained, according to Tech News World, that in the future transparency will be more important than privacy.

"By 2025, you will be considered a non-person if you do not have embarrassing photos or videos online from your misspent youth," Michalski wrote in his comments.

New tech will make things worse
The new wave of technology, according to CNN, will only exacerbate the problem. Smart cars, facial recognition software and fitness trackers will provide even more personal information to tech companies. Anderson noted that of the experts surveyed by Pew, those with particular knowledge of new technologies expressed the most distrust about privacy rights in 2025.

"People are becoming more attuned all the time to the fact that they are paying for 'free' services offered by Google, Facebook, Twitter and other popular companies by giving up personal information that is sold as a commodity by those companies," Anderson said, according to CNN.

Some experts argued that because information-sharing offers Internet users added benefits and ease-of-use, the trade of information for convenience is worth it. Hal Varian, Google's chief economist, explained that convenience may be more important to consumers than privacy. 

"The benefits of cloud-based, personal, digital assistants will be so overwhelming that putting restrictions on these services will be out of the question," said Varian, according to CNN. "Everyone will expect to be tracked and monitored, since the advantages, in terms of convenience, safety, and services, will be so great."

It seems that George Orwell's future has arrived.

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