I heard a report on NPR about an auto insurance company giving drivers the options of putting GPS tracking devices on their vehicles to lower insurance rates by as much as 30%. The idea is that, for example, the device could confirm to the insurance company that the car wasn't being used in high risk situations, such as commute traffic. Safe driving situations would be rewarded with lower rates.

This made me wonder how much money could be saved by creating an entire city with no privacy except in the bedroom and bathroom. I will stipulate in advance that you do not want to live in such a place because you're an urban pirate. You want the freedom to do "stuff" that no one ever finds out about.  I get it. This is just an economic thought experiment.

Although you would never live in a city without privacy, I think that if one could save 30% on basic living expenses, and live in a relatively crime-free area, plenty of volunteers would come forward.

Let's assume that residents of this city agree to get "chipped" so their locations are always known. Everyone's online activities are also tracked, as are all purchases, and so on. We'll have to assume this hypothetical city exists in the not-so-distant future when technology can handle everything I'm about to describe.

This city of no privacy wouldn't need much of a police force because no criminal would agree to live in such a monitored situation. And let's assume you have to have a chip to enter the city at all. The few crooks that might make the mistake of opting in would be easy to round up. If anything big went down, you could contract with neighboring towns to get SWAT support in emergency situations.

You wouldn't need police to catch speeders. Cars would automatically report the speed and location of every driver.  That sucks, you say, because you usually speed, and you like it. But consider that speed limits in this hypothetical town would be much higher than normal because every car would be aware of the location of every other car, every child, and every pet. Accidents could be nearly eliminated.

Healthcare costs might plunge with the elimination of privacy. For example, your pill container would monitor whether you took your prescription pills on schedule. I understand that noncompliance of doctor-ordered dosing is a huge problem, especially with older folks.

Without privacy you would also begin to build a database of which drugs are actually working and which ones have deadly side effects. Every patient's history would be meticulously and automatically collected. The same goes for detailed diet and exercise patterns. Healthcare today involves an alarming amount of educated guesswork. In time, with a total lack of privacy, we'd know precisely which kinds of choices have better health outcomes.

Now imagine that your doctor has a full screen of your DNA so together you can modify your lifestyle or healthcare choices to avoid problems for which you are prone. This city would need to have universal healthcare to make this work. No one would be denied coverage because of an existing or potential condition.

Employment would seem problematic in this world of no privacy. You assume that no employer would hire someone who has risky lifestyle preferences, or DNA that suggests major health problems. But I'll bet employers would learn that everyone has issues of one kind or another, so hiring a qualified candidate who might later become ill will look like a good deal. And on the plus side, employers would rarely hire someone who had a bad employment record, as that information would not be as hidden as it is today. Bad workers would end up voluntarily moving out of the city to find work. Imagine a world where your coworkers are competent. You might need a lack of privacy to get to that happy situation.

Public transportation would be cheap in this city of no privacy. Once you know where everyone is, and where everyone wants to go, you can design a system that has little wasted capacity. That means lower costs.

Now let's say that your house is aware of your location and even your patterns of activities. Smart systems in the home can turn off your lights whenever a room is unoccupied, power down your computer as needed, and generally manage your power consumption smartly. And if you insisted on being an energy hog, your neighbors would be aware of it. Studies have shown that peer pressure has a huge impact on conservation. It's not as bad as it sounds; if your neighbor is elderly, and using a lot of energy for extra heating, you would understand. In most cases your neighbor's excessive energy use would have a perfectly good explanation.

At tax time, you'd be done before you started. All of your financial activities would be tracked in real time, so your taxes would always be up to date.

Advertisements would transform from a pervasive nuisance into something more like useful information. Advertisers would know so much about your lifestyle and preferences that you would only see ads that made perfect sense for your situation.

This lack of privacy would extend to businesses as well, although the better description in this case would be transparency. As a consumer, you'd know where to get the best prices. You'd know how long the wait is at your favorite restaurant. And you'd know how every consumer felt about his experience with every business.

When you considered applying for a new job, you'd have access to the latest employee opinion survey for that business. Bad employee practices would be driven out and best practices would more easily spread.

Confusopolies wouldn't be tolerated in this city. Confusing pricing plans are a weasel method of hiding information from consumers. If a company wants to offer cell phone service, or insurance, or banking, in this city they have to meet standards for pricing clarity.

On the personal side of things, a complete surrendering of privacy means it's always easy to locate and hook up with people who have similar interests and similar schedules. Dating, and every other social activity would become far easier. And cheating would be nearly impossible.

You worry about the slippery slope of zero privacy. The government could easily abuse this information. But that problem is somewhat minimized because the situation is limited to a single city, and the residents can simply leave if they don't like how things are going.

I know you don't want to live in that city. I'm just curious what sort of price, in economic terms, and in convenience and in social benefits, we pay for our privacy. My guess is that it's expensive.
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Mar 16, 2011
In Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids, the database is called the "Alibi Archive" because it can only be accessed by permission of the people involved, or in the investigation of a crime. It gets its name because it makes it almost impossible to be wrongly convicted of a crime. The society depicted is made up of Neanderthals, who due to their great strength, strongly punish violent crimes. The convicted is forcibly sterilized, as is anyone who shares 50% of their DNA (parents, siblings and children). One plot point is based on the systems flaws.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 16, 2011
Niven and Pournell already wrote the story of Noprivacyville (which they named "Todos Santos") in "Oath of Fealty" (1981)
Mar 16, 2011
Adams have you been reading Brave New World?
Mar 16, 2011
It could actually work provided one thing - all monitoring would be done by Artificial Intelligence. We, human beings, are greedy, selfish, dishonest (and so on) and the system under the rule of humans would very soon collapse into totalitarian oppression. Skynet is the only choice :)
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 16, 2011
I offer you this alternative option. Who among us would be willing to pay a 30% premium for protection from privacy intrusions? I am only now, both middle-age and middle-class able to afford this, but it's not an economic experiment, but a thought experiment.

In return for a 30% premium on all items and services, you don't have to take a drug test to get a job. Your application for a loan or credit card includes only your name. Provided you get to work on time, work productively and get back and forth safely, you can mainline your favorite drug off your favorite hooker between shifts.

Clearly there are issues, mostly where people impact others' lives, but you've essentially invoked a 30% tax on everything, so there's money to fix that.

Under the right !$%*!$%*!$%*!$ I'd consider paying 30% to escape targeted ads, surf !$%* and drink as I like with autonomy.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 16, 2011
In Hominids, Robert J. Sawyer develops a parallel earth where every person carries a "Companion" implant. The Companion records every action, medical condition, surrounding video and audio, etc. and downloads it to a secure database.

A difference from your post is that while everything is known about everyone all the time, the data is accessible only under very strict conditions.

Perhaps knowing that you have no privacy is an interim solution to complete privacy exposure.

Great post - food for thought.
Mar 16, 2011
Noprivacyville already exists. It's in countless villages in Africa, the New Guinea highlands, the Amazon. There are no doors, there are no locks. Everyone knows everyone elses business. You can't steal Bob's spear because everyone will be asking "Why do you have Bob's spear?". How much theft do you suppose there is in a village of 50 people? Also nobody gets booked for speeding - there's no cars.

Privacy is an unfortunate artefact of your complicated modern existence. Were you living a simple life it wouldn't exist.
+19 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 16, 2011
I'll tell you how to fix the economy, make everybody in a position of power live in this place and let the world see what they're up to.

Of course you're right, no crim^Wpolitician would want to live there.
Mar 15, 2011
What is the point of life under those conditions? Everything managed and regulated and monitored. Keep it.
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 15, 2011
So everyone who lives or visits gets chipped so you can track them. How do you secure the town so that criminals can't sneak in and cause mischief?
Mar 15, 2011
Oh, and Scott, what prevents companies from creating confusopolies, or monopolies? In both situations the cities goal collapses, and they seem like the most likely results of a "business evolution."

Is there a system you've inferred and I didn't notice, or are there some laws against it?
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 15, 2011
Living in a closed society: expensive

The ability to !$%*!$%*!$ in peace: priceless
Mar 15, 2011
There have been several posts postulating the lessening or end of privacy. "The Light of Other Days" by Arthur C. Clarke is an interesting exploration about that subject and some interesting permutations.
Mar 15, 2011
If this system could be set up cheaply (which I doubt now, but will probably be possible in the near future), then the system could work very well. The other issue is whether or not the government is OK with it. If people have issues with this, they don't opt in. And eventually, when the people who *did* opt in tell everyone how great this system is, no one will have issues with opting in.
Mar 15, 2011
This only works if the people living there are all friendly and understanding. Otherwise you get stalkers, abuses of minorities, guilting people to join the local religion, etc. I'm not opposed to losing privacy (and in fact there's almost nothing about me which can't easily be found on the internet), but it's unreasonable to require everyone to give up their privacy until these problems have been dealt with. And I'm not saying they're impossible to deal with; I'm saying, come up with ideas, and then you'll have something.
Mar 15, 2011
Based on Larry Niven's rules, there are only two possible tendencies: you either sacrifice Liberty for Security, or sacrifice Security for Liberty. I always sacrifice Security, so yeah, living in Noprivacyville would be a nightmare for me, but I know lots of overworried folks who would just lov'it :-)
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 15, 2011
When you think of it, this is quite a sad thought experiment when put in historical perspective. So many human lifes lost to fight for freedom, yet this idea is to just give it up for a 30% discount in car insurance, a discount that will soonafter be undone because they find something else to make you pay more.

The question is not what the cost is of freedom. We know it. It has cost us the ultimate price: human lifes. The question is how much it is worth. Surely I hope it is more than the bloody price of a car insurance.
Mar 15, 2011
You cleverly left out one big piece of your scenario: who is doing the monitoring? My guess is that it's the government. So what you have proposed is a situation where the government controls each and every aspect of a person's life.

But wait, you say. They can leave any time they like! But can they? Their lives are intertwined with their location. It involves their job, their family, their social lives, their investments, so it's really not easy to leave.

I think a better thought experiment would be this: once you give up your freedom in exchange for some temporary security, and you wake up to find that you're really a slave to your government, what does it take for you to get your freedom back?

Once you give up your freedom, or have it taken from you, it's hell to get it back. That's why it's never a good idea to give up your freedom, even if you get a 30% discount on your car insurance. Ultimately, the trade isn't worth the price.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 15, 2011
Assuming that the chip will track your whereabouts only inside the Noprivacyville and once you sign up to live in Noprivacyville, you can still enter and leave the town for any length of time, I would like to spend my days mostly in Noprivacyville and my nights, out in the "world". For ~ 90% of my time, I do not care if everyone who cares to know knows where I am and what I am doing. For that 10% stuff that I do not want anyone to know about (wink wink), I can always go to my "Vegas" next door. So I will be going to the doctors in Norpivacyville, but when they ask me where I got those deceases/needle marks from I will have to say "I don't know!"
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Mar 15, 2011
I'm all for removing privacy in order to ascertain truth. Things like insurance and the justice system are costly because they serve to address the unknown. The inherit unknowns are abused by scammers, making life (and costs) higher for the rest of us.
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