Privacy Predictions for 2015


Big Tech will start rolling out a privacy pushback for business reasons, bank account confiscations will take place boosting bitcoin, VPNs / Proxies will continue to see uptake, people in general still won’t understand the dystopia that’s already here, and at least one mass device with strong privacy will launch.

Prediction 1: Big Tech companies will start rolling out a privacy pushback, for business reasons. We’re still seeing effects of the Snowden Shock 18 months ago, but the discussions have started to take concrete form on how to actually fix the situation. It’s clear that strong crypto like PGP, TOR, and RedPhone/Signal is much too hard to use for the general public, and more importantly, that convenience wins out over privacy every single time.

But privacy is a herd immunity. If everybody’s communication is encrypted, that makes it impossible for an adversary to single out encrypted traffic in a general flow and direct all code-breaking resources at that particular traffic. Therefore, it has a lot of intrinsic value to encrypt even mundane and insensitive traffic. However, this won’t happen on scale until it’s more convenient to encrypt, than it is to not encrypt.

Big Tech and the major players have realized this and are starting to act accordingly. I predict that during 2015, we will see rollouts of technologies that make encryption not just easy, but mandatory in practice. Not because Big Tech are necessarily anti-government or politically pro-privacy, but simply because it is in their business interest to keep private correspondence private – to deliver what they claim they offer.

Prediction 2: Bank savings confiscations will happen. This is privacy in the larger sense, as financial privacy is one of the seven privacies, but will cause people to become more protective of that aspect. Mid-2014, the Cyprus government saved itself by confiscating bank savings. Greece is now rapidly approaching a similar situation, and the mere fact that the Government just assured people it won’t happen shows they’re already thinking about it as a real possibility. It will happen in at least one location in 2015, possibly several. This, in turn, will fuel bitcoin uptake.

Prediction 3: VPNs and Proxies will continue to see an uptake. Whether to get anonymous, to circumvent bad ISP behavior, or just to circumvent stupid geocoding restrictions, VPNs will continue to see uptake. This may be slowed somewhat by the relevation that the NSA claims to be able to break VPNs. However, VPNs are not so much about obscuring your traffic from the government – they never were. Your VPN traffic exits in cleartext at the other end of the VPN tunnel, after all. Stating that the NSA can “break VPNs” misses the key point of VPNs: they provide anonymity as they change your IP to something completely untrackable, and they provide opaqueness at the ISP level, masking your activities from your first-step service provider (which is less than friendly in many parts of the world).

(Corporate VPNs are a different matter, but that’s going into corporate espionage, which the NSA is also fond of.)

Prediction 4: People in general will continue to neither understand nor care. Except for a very small technically savvy crowd, most people are completely oblivious to the fact that we effectively have a Thought Police. There is an utter, total, and complete disconnect between the expectation of privacy people have, and what privacy they do have. Various government agencies are more or less able to follow your searches and readings in real-time – which is the closest we’ve ever come to mind reading. Not just mind reading, but by somebody who will knock your door down at dawn if your thoughts are deemed threatening. It’s far beyond the Big-Brother dystopias of the 1950s, and most people still won’t care about it.

Prediction 5: At least one major hardware device for the masses will launch with privacy as a main selling point. There are several in the works, so this may come across as a rather safe bet, but it’s still a very interesting development in juxtaposition with predictions #1 and #4.

In general, things can be expected to get a little better in 2015. Not good, but at least less worse.

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