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What if ... the loss of trust in the Internet spurs a global movement of people disconnecting?

“Opting Out” Goes Mainstream

Anne meets me on a park bench in an affluent, middle-American city. It’s swelteringly hot, but she wears a business suit and pantyhose. As we’re in public, she also wears her anonymiser, a pair of spectacles that project a randomised set of features on her face. Anne’s face can’t be read by the recognition systems in every public and private space, so she’s not getting location-based ads on her device. Nor can the “smart city” track her movements and raise an alert if she does something unexpected.

Facial anonymisers started as a tool for criminals and protestors, but are now worn by a growing-number of law-abiding citizens opting out of what they call “surveillance capitalism”. It’s not strictly against the law to opt out, but it’s strongly discouraged.

“I’m a little unusual”, Anne laughs. “Many opt outs get started because they’re sick of ads or they’ve got a criminal record, so they’re under active surveillance all the time. I’ve never broken a single law in my life. Not even jay-walking”.

Anne seems too normal to live outside the technologies that protect us all. I ask what pushed her over the edge.

“Something bad happened to someone I love”, she says quietly. “But there was a big protest that day. Some international summit. And nobody came to help her. Priorities, right?"

She fingers the device on her wrist. I realise with a shock that it’s not a ubiquitous computing node, just a plain, old-fashioned watch.

“I looked at my device”, she says, “and I thought, it’s not just these companies tracking and manipulating me. Or the government. It’s the whole thing. No one asked if I wanted it. They just assumed I’d... what do they call it? Trade off privacy for security. And I was OK with that. I thought they’d look after me when it really mattered. I trusted them”.

She shakes her head in disbelief.

“But trust is a two-way street, you know? And from now on, I’m walking down it alone”.

This story shows us how the Internet might evolve. But the path we take is up to us.

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