What If: Privacy becomes a luxury good?

With our devices monitoring us around the clock and the digital services we rely on demanding our personal data, is anonymity becoming impossible? What if data privacy becomes a luxury that only the wealthy can afford? This sessions explores the possible, plausible and probable impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on our right to a private life.

Nancy Gibbs, Editor-In-Chief of Time Magazine begins the session by asking the audience to vote on the question, “By the year 2025, will we see a gap between the privacy rich and the privacy poor?”

79% respond ‘yes’. A version of the poll on Time.com received an even stronger response - 91% thought we would see a gap.


André Kudelski, Chairman of the Kudelski Group, suggests “people who are protecting themselves with the parameter of privacy, may trigger the question - what are you hiding?”

Michael F. Neidorff, Chairman of Centene Corporation agrees, stating that “by definition you give up privacy by being involved in something.”

The rich / poor divide?

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, says that privacy should not be limited to those who can afford to protect themselves. “We should protect everyone, not just the rich.”


Big Data

However, Nancy Gibbs suggests that there can be benefits to the widespread use of our data, for example in health.

Michael F. Neidorff agrees, saying “big data can be incredibly beneficial but the fact that it is not anonymised is where the problem emerges.”


André Kudelski agrees, saying that “fundamentally, to be able to do new things, you will need some data. But there is a big difference between collecting the information, and how you use the information.”

Technology and convenience

Kenneth Roth suggests that, even if people say they have "nothing to hide”, as we move towards the Internet of Things, there are devices that can serve as data sucks, gathering information and sending it off to some corporate entity.

“The issue becomes that you have consented to it, but there is no real choice. You cannot opt out of private life. Once you’ve disclosed one thing, to one company, that should be it.” he concludes.

Jean-Yves Charlier, Group Chief Executive Officer of VimpelCom Ltd, suggests that “privacy is being traded off for convenience. New generations born today, may not be as concerned. They are willing to give it up for new services.”

Future solutions?

Nancy Gibbs asks, “How can we come to find a set of regulations, if there are so many global differences?”

Evelyn Ruppert, Professor, at Goldsmiths, University of London suggests that we look to cultural regulation and future solutions, saying that “privacy today may change tomorrow and we must think about it as a process. Educating our children will become a fundamental part of explaining privacy”.

Kenneth Roth supports this stating that, “We are vulnerable, and there is an urgent need for laws and regulations”


Kenneth Roth, agrees that there is good business in selling our data but the principle should be “there is a presumption that you didn’t consent, unless explicitly given. If there is consent, it should be for the narrow use of the data.” This, he says, would provide enormous protection.


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