Privacy as we know it will no longer be 10 years from now, according to a survey of more than 2,500 experts answering Pew Research Center's question about how different public norms will be surrounding Internet privacy.
In a report titled "The Future of Privacy" by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, a total of 2,511 researchers, marketers, analysts, policy-makers and other technology experts weighed in on the matter of whether online privacy as deemed today will still hold a similar place in 2025. About 45 percent of the respondents believe there will be a "secure, popularly accepted and trusted privacy rights infrastructure" by that time, while the remaining 55 percent do not believe that will happen.
However, chief among the sentiments shared by both sides of the discussion is that living a public life will become the new default as few private individuals will have the resources or the energy to resist the growing power of governments and corporations in "dataveillance."
Moreover, Internet privacy will further highly the divide between the haves and the have-nots, as people with financial means will be able to pay for premium services to control their data and others not so well-off will have to make do with free services in exchange for their private information.
"This is the creation of privacy as a luxury good," says professor and research scientist Kate Crawford. "It also has the unfortunate effect of establishing a new divide: the privacy rich and the privacy poor."
"Privacy rights will be managed by market solutions, with the affluent able to maintain better control of their privacy," adds another respondent who asked to remain anonymous. "Like luxury cars and summer homes, control over private data will be the privilege of winning financially."
Others view it differently. They believe the lack of privacy on the Internet will become an inevitable fact of life, perhaps not very different from death and taxes, and people of the future - today's millennials that will become the future's value creators - will be more accepting of the fact that data collection is here to stay.
"People will become more aware of the trade-offs, which will drive an evolution of norms," says science and technology policy analyst Marjory Blumenthal. "They will also have become more sophisticated about choices regarding disclosures they make, exercising finer-grained control - in part because there will be more technical support for doing so - and there will also have been evolution of the legal and regulatory framework."
Several experts optimistic about the future of privacy also believe that tools will be in place to allow citizens to negotiate how much control they should have when it comes to their private data, with some believing the tools will come in the next three to five years. An anonymous respondent working for the United States executive branch of government says governments will need to become more open with the public for a working model of privacy in the future to flourish.
"The infrastructure will require transparency among governments as a trusted partner - but also recognizing that not all data can or should be made open," he says. "We will be trusting machines more; we will have our digital device (a smartphone, an embedded device in us, etc.) interface with systems to pre-negotiate what information we will and will not share. End-user licensing agreements will be machine-to-machine."
While some experts look forward to a new kind of privacy in the future, others do not see the same thing in place. The pessimism, in part, stems from the varying cultural notions of privacy among countries and between states nation-states and corporations and the growing acceptance of Internet of Things devices that will be able to "tattle" on citizens.
"I have difficulty foreseeing policy-makers and corporations coming to agreement on privacy issues when there is little current agreement," says Hall of Famer and technology developer Henning Schulzrinne. "Also, security is clearly not a high priority for corporations, and there seems to be little effort on the policy side to compel them to take it seriously."
The lack of effort by governments and corporations to create an environment that honors privacy is largely due to the fact that most people are more than willing to sacrifice their privacy over convenience, a notion supported by the findings of a few studies confirming that most Internet users prefer having it quick and easy instead of going through a few hurdles to achieve online privacy.
"People will be increasingly more accepting of exchanging privacy for services and customization, unless advocacy and education efforts are increased now," says University of Washington associate professor of communication Gina Neff.