The idea of a seamlessly connected world isn’t necessarily all warm and fuzzy, and wearables aren’t all being designed for universally positive outcomes. For example, some created for employees have the potential to usher in a new era of worker surveillance.
We have reached a point where, as a society, we don’t really understand how tech works
Their individual-tracking capabilities bear an uncomfortably uncanny resemblance to Orwell’s Big Brother society. This is an extreme example. However, the fact that vast swathes of the world’s population carry GPS-enabled, data-collecting devices in their pockets is making the concept of true privacy and anonymity a thing of the past.
Privacy doesn’t exist in a connected world," explains Volvo futurologist Aric Dromi. "We have to accept that. But with that being said, there should be a value exchange. The value that Facebook – the world’s biggest data-mining company – gives you to monetise your data is deemed worth it."
This idea of a value exchange is one that comes up time and again, but doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. "2015 marks the end of an era," argues Dromi. "We have reached a point where, as a society, we don’t really understand how tech works. Tech is developing faster than our ability to grasp understanding of it."
He believes the ultimate value exchange might be the ability to outsource cognitive needs in order to achieve self-optimisation. "We are at the point of no return for becoming digital humans. We increasingly trust technology to fulfil our needs and if you’re freeing up mind space where you used to store phone numbers, you can begin to evolve and use that space for something new."
As people begin to comprehend the trade-offs and look to personal optimisation as the ultimate reward for data-sharing, perhaps attitudes toward privacy will develop. For now, however, the overwhelming feeling is one of confusion.
JWT’s director of consumer intelligence, trends and insights, Marie Stafford offers insights from research the agency is undertaking into consumer control. When it comes to privacy, she says: "There’s a lot of anxiety. One person can have very conflicting views – 90% of people say they want control over who has access to their data and what they do with it, and in the same breath, 80% say that they don’t feel privacy is possible any more."
Despite any concerns, Stafford adds that very few people are doing anything to combat intrusions. She cites a lack of awareness or perceived hassle as two reasons for underwhelming use of services like ad- and VPN-blockers.
If the trend continues in this way, IBM’s Pinto believes the next stage for marketing will be ultra-personalised targeting that is "able to figure out who you are, where you are and what you need in the moment to give you useful info, rather than just decontextualised advertising"."