A very simple post-privacy manifesto

quantified self
In our daily work, we are reg­u­lar­ly con­front­ed with pri­va­cy issues: since our com­pa­ny Datarel­la pro­vides data ana­lyt­ics based on exter­nal third party data and inter­nal behav­ioral data gath­ered via our app explore, we know what it means to com­ply with nation­al data pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions. And since we are based in Munich and most of our projects are exe­cut­ed in Ger­many, we nat­u­ral­ly com­ply with Ger­many’s Daten­schutzbes­tim­mungen.
How­ev­er, the basic moti­va­tion for our work orig­i­nates with an intrin­sic need of human beings: peo­ple want to know them­selves, they want to learn who they are, why they behave the way they do and whether there are ways to improve their lives. For a long time, this noble task of explor­ing human­i­ty was an exclu­sive exer­cise of philoso­phers, cler­gy, sci­en­tists and other intel­lec­tu­als. John Doe did­n’t have the means, time and leisure to go on this jour­ney of his own dis­cov­ery.
Today, since we may fly around the world with air­planes, use the inter­net to look up vir­tu­al­ly any­thing and are always-on(line) thanks to mobile and other wear­able devices, we don’t have to study sci­ences or be some brainy super­hero to know the world in gen­er­al and our­selves in par­tic­u­lar. We are able to know our­selves not by vis­it­ing Freudi­an evening class­es, but by col­lect­ing data about our own behav­ior. We weigh our­selves, we track our move­ments, or food intake and our somat­ic func­tions.
We quan­ti­fy our­selves. In the Unit­ed States, 70% of adults have tracked at least one spe­cif­ic data set regard­ing their somat­ic func­tions. And — let’s be hon­est — don’t you know your per­son­al body­weight? There you go — we all quan­ti­fy our­selves. Not later than you reach your for­ties, you will start to care more about your body: you see the first signs of age and you ask your­self how to stay “young” a lit­tle longer.
That’s at least for the lucky ones, the healthy peo­ple who want to opti­mize their well-being. And then think of sick peo­ple, peo­ple with chron­ic dis­eases such as dia­betes, osteo­poro­sis, depres­sion, etc. For them, any improve­ment of their lives qual­i­ty is more than nice-to-have, but in most cases the only way to live a decent life with­out the sternest depri­va­tions. Peo­ple with chron­ic dis­eases are on long-term med­ica­tion, often suf­fer from side-effects and depend on sup­port from their physi­cians and the lat­est med­ical pro­fes­sion­al knowl­edge. The more they have to rely on oth­ers, the less they feel self-empowered. Or — vice versa- the more they can con­tribute to their con­va­les­cence them­selves, the more dynam­ic that process will be.
The Quan­ti­fied Self move­ment and with it, wear­able tech, has turned the old hier­ar­chi­cal model of exclu­sive sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge — some (sci­en­tists, doc­tors) have the means (money, med­ical devices) to gen­er­ate knowl­edge (phys­i­cal exam­i­na­tion) and to exe­cute accord­ing­ly (pre­scribe drugs) — upside-down: now, the patient (every­body) has the means (e.g. $50 for a hemo­dy­namome­ter) to gen­er­ate knowl­edge (the blood pres­sure app) and to exe­cute accord­ing­ly (e.g. change her behav­ior).
This is noth­ing less than the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of health­care.
If you per­son­al­ly know peo­ple with chron­ic dis­eases and you look at the tremen­dous­ly pos­i­tive effects they achieve by quan­ti­fy­ing them­selves, you will never again doubt the mean­ing­ful­ness and rel­e­vance of the Quan­ti­fied Self. Besides col­lect­ing data about their own health, most peo­ple share their data with oth­ers. Shar­ing health data means pro­vid­ing a sound basis for research which is essen­tial for explor­ing ill­ness­es and devel­op­ing inno­v­a­tive ther­a­pies. By shar­ing their data, peo­ple don’t give some­thing away. They rather pro­vide life-saving data to their peers, and there­fore the bem­e­fits to soci­ety clear­ly out­weigh costs. (For pri­vavy experts: shar­ing data means shar­ing data anony­mous­ly.)
Whether in health­care or in other areas of life: in a post-privacy world, pri­va­cy is no longer guar­an­teed or even expect­ed. Let’s face it: pri­va­cy has already been erod­ing on all lev­els. And do you know why? Pri­va­cy has reached its final stage because trans­paren­cy and shar­ing are pure­ly ben­e­fi­cial — they facil­i­tate aware­ness, explo­ration, inno­va­tion, learn­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion and, final­ly, evo­lu­tion. That’s why there’s no need to fear the loss of pri­va­cy — the ben­e­fits of trans­paren­cy and shar­ing clear­ly over­com­pen­sate any neg­a­tive effects.
I’m con­fi­dent­ly look­ing for­ward to very dynam­ic process­es in dif­fer­ent areas of life — ini­ti­at­ed by the Quan­ti­fied Self. And I encour­age you to par­tic­i­pate in that move­ment! If you’re scep­ti­cal­ly, just give it a try: start track­ing some of your body func­tions and you will learn more about your­self. You might won­der about the con­se­quences. And .… please stop mourn­ing pri­va­cy — it’s over.

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