When Mark Zuckerberg said ‘from now on we will live our lives in public’, he was signalling the end of privacy for his own convenience. Now, he says that ‘the future is private’ and it must hurt him to have to say it.
Essentially the worm turned. Users realised that he said things like that so that we wouldn’t notice and allow him and others to plunder our data. It was, so we thought, the new normal.
Now, no-one believes him.
Apparently the UK Government do not believe him about Facebook’s testimony over the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
What is shocking, reading the news at the moment, is just how much of our lives we were living in public.
Did we fully understand, for example, that having a Facebook ‘like’ button on a third-party website meant that Facebook got the data from the ‘likes’ and used it, presumably to turbo charge their very profitable advertising business?
The assumption that we would not mind tech companies using our data became the presumption that made us rebel.
Facebook is not alone and stories are now emerging that will have far-reaching effects.
Apple, the loudest and proudest advocate of privacy has now suspended a programme where it outsourced a grading system for Siri to contractors who overheard conversations, drunken singing and who know what else.
We knew that it was technically possible for producers of voice assistants to listen in.
We did not realise – because we were never told – that contractors were listening to private (but not as private as we thought) conversations.
Now that the privacy issue is a public one you can bet the farm that more and more stories will emerge, along with suitable levels of outrage.
You can also place a bet that politicians will fuel the outrage. A politician, particularly one in an election campaign, loves nothing better than a crusade.
And privacy is now a crusade.
The unintended consequences of this backlash will quite possibly break the model that has supported the free internet. Internet advertising growth is now slower than at any time since the dot com bubble burst back in 2001.
The question is who will take advantage of privacy as a differentiator – and do it in a way that we believe.
The other question is whether we believe anything that the big tech companies tell us, which will greatly affect whether they continue to thrive.
It is not something that you would bet the farm on but Silicon Valley itself is tainted and the next privacy based solution may come from somewhere far far away.