To date, there is no adequate view or model on how privacy will and is supposed to affect the near future of our society. On the one hand, the flow of information, noticed or unnoticed, is increasing at a virtually ungovernable rate. On the other hand, the public discussion is very likely to miss the critical points of importance and impact of privacy, because our view on the topic is inevitably based on experiences from the past. Let us face it - in one way or the other; it is certain that our future society will be based upon a flow of information which is not comparable to the past. The speed of the change of this one parameter alone predicts one thing: our observing, thinking, realizing and reacting is destined to come too late.
The desire for privacy is an ancient component of sociocultural evolution, which is to secure flexibility of the regulations the society agrees on. It gives individuals more personal freedom, because not every single step is under close observation and control. In the evolution of our society it is a kind of "mutation rate" which avoids that the system gets stuck in a set of non-ideal rules and it allows adjustment to changes. This view of privacy as a mutation rate illustrates one very important fact: the question is not if we need this mutation rate or not - per definition all evolutionary systems do - the question is how much of it is needed.
This "how much" is far more difficult to predict as we intuitively assume and the boundary between privacy and freely available information is much less distinct as the general perception would make believe. For example, the danger of discrimination may not increase monotonically with the amount of information which is available. Effects like the anonymity of the mass need to be considered, where more information may lead to less discrimination. We have to work on future scenarios where a lot more information is available than now – which may function in a substantially different way.
Privacy is obviously not the only way to guarantee a well-tuned mutation rate. To adjust the amount of privacy our future society needs is necessary
but not sufficient
for a well progressing sociocultural evolution. The more privacy is lifted, the more important alternative ways for protection against discrimination get. How information is processed
may be one of the most important factors in this respect. The amount of information which is available already today is absolutely useless
without processing. This processing is a much more dangerous source for discrimination than the pure availability of most of the information. So we have to take care of that in time, that is synchronously
with the increasing access to information. In many cases, to enforce this process may be more important than pursuing the protection of information. In the public debate about the topic of privacy, this point is often dramatically missing. To the Googles and facebooks: yes, I may give up some privacy, it helps me, it helps you. But you also must lift yours and share your processing.
There will be no simple answer to the question of where and how much privacy is needed. It is one parameter in sociocultural evolution which needs to be continuously adjusted to get the right balance between the abidance of rules and their flexibility. In the current discussion nobody seems to have answers that can come close. The trigger of our current discussions is the sudden, unpredicted and uncontrolled growth of the availability of information. This disturbs the balance in sociocultural evolution and is certainly something we have to worry about. On the other hand, the only counter movement seems to be the limitation of access to information; to not share things in social networks, to not use personalized search engines, to not send e-mails, ... In a world that has so much to gain from the flow of information, this cannot and will not be a solution. It only distracts from points which would be far more important to discuss. Instead, we have to take care that preconditions are in place, which keep the balance. We know some of these preconditions already, but we seem to fail to give them the attention they deserve.