Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide, is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”– Edward Snowden
The privacy debate of today is a glass-half-empty, glass-half-full scenario. As soon as technophiles rejoice that “We’ve never had it so good”, a cautionary note is sounded by the less enthusiastic: “The world and our privacy is falling apart!”. Today’s digital age is the proverbial double-edged sword, and our privacy is increasingly the hilt of that sword. Never has this been more true than in light of the revelation that users’ Facebook data was harvested and exploited for political profiling, without these users’ direct consent1. When Sting crooned to “Every breath you take”2 in the 80s, who would have thought that ‘every move you make’ in the online world today is visible to not only those you trust but also those you don’t know. Privacy can be seen as a reflex of innovation. While one approach would be to say that privacy is a norm and that with modern technologies, the norm must be reconsidered and if necessary, abandoned. The conundrum, however, is how to ensure protection while retaining the critical aspects of our democratic systems such as free speech, freedom of assembly and association, and critically, the right to privacy.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies have huge opportunities in strengthening national competitiveness, but also threats that are difficult to foresee today. From an economic perspective, in the early 1990s, Michael E. Porter, a professor from Harvard University, pointed out that “a nation’s competitiveness depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and upgrade”.3 However, all it takes is one small glitch in the image for the Artificial Intelligence to see a toaster instead of a face! The feeling of excessive surveillance and the multiplication of errors can be particularly worrying. Another cause for concern is that the racial and social profiling techniques these intelligent systems might use could lead to significant errors and abuses.
The Digital Privacy Paradox:
Economics of Privacy:
Black Swans of Security:
Role of Civil Society:
Privacy of the Future:
In addition to regulations, businesses also need to codify a set of ethics and bake it into their business models. In the words of Senator Bill Nelson of Florida speaking at a congressional hearing to Mark Zuckerberg: “Let me just cut to the chase. If you and other social media companies do not get your act in order, none of us are going to have any privacy anymore.”6
1 Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore and Carole Cadwalladr, “How Trump Consultants Exploited the
Facebook Data of Millions,” The New York Times, March 17, 2018,
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/17/us/politics/cambridge-analytica-trump-campaign. html. 2 The Police, “Every Breath You Take,” Synchronicity, 1983,
3 See: https://hbr.org/1990/03/the-competitive-advantage-of-nations
4 Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1949.
5 Simina Mistreanu, “Life Inside China’s Social Credit Laboratory,” Foreign Policy, April 3, 2018,
http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/04/03/ life-inside-chinas-social-credit-laboratory/. 6 “Transcript of Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate Hearing,” The Washington Post, April 10, 2018,
Coase, R. H. (1960). The problem of social cost. Journal of Law and Economics 3(1), 1–44.
Laudon, K. (1997, January). Extensions to the theory of markets and privacy: Mechanics of pricing information. Stern School of Business – New York University – Working Papers.
Noam, E. M. (1997). Privacy and self-regulation: Markets for electronic privacy. In Privacy and Self-regulation in the Information Age. US Department of Commerce.
Varian, Hal R. 1997. “Economics Aspects of Personal Privacy.” In Privacy and Self-Regulation in the Information Age. Washington, DC: US Department of Commerce, National
Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Profile of the author
Age-22, Education- B.A. Economics Honours, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi (2015-18), Masters in Public Policy (MPP), St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai (2018-20), Centre for Civil Society (CCS) Alumna; ‘i-Policy for Development Leaders’ (October 2016).
Simran is of the opinion that reality is what people make of it, more or less on the lines of Alexander Wendt. Her reality is about creating a shared space where people, diplomacy, economics and international realities can merge together to provide for an atmosphere of peaceful co-existence. She has been surviving on Amartya Sen, Fukoyama and Karl Marx not only for the sheer joy of critiquing, analyzing and learning their works but to see how economics and developmental policies could work in tandem. While currently interning at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) under the Multilateral Economic Relations (MER) Division, she is looking into the economic and political relations between G-20, BRICS and India. She is also working on her research paper on the bilateral trade relations between China, India and the United States. Her dissertation is centred around the theme of ‘Community and Healthcare’ wherein she would be analysing the positive correlation between increased community participation and the effectiveness of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme under the Ministry of Women and Child Development to reduce child malnutrition in Mumbai.