A tale about the price of privacy
A tale about the price of privacy

Our privacy or lack thereof is determined by the choices we make every day. The devices we use, the apps we download, and the terms and conditions we agree to determine our exposure to the digital world and the utility we can derive from it. We have created Will, a fictional virtual assistant set 10 years in the future. This piece of design fiction is a logical extrapolation of the capabilities of current technologies and the context they might exist within. You get to choose your own path through the future. The decisions you make will determine your relative success or failure and help you understand the future privacy implications of your current decisions.

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The contemporary narrative about privacy is polemic. It suggests that there is an objective individual good (privacy) and objective individual bad (surveillance) in conflict with subjective collective good (surveillance) and subjective collective bad (privacy), and there is little space in between. This, in our view, is an unreasonable proposition that only holds true within hostile surveillance states. If the individual chooses to cede aspects of their privacy in return for utility, then there must be a perceived benefit for doing so. In this project, we created Will, a design fiction, to help extrapolate the costs and benefits of decisions related to both ceding and gaining privacy. It is not a simple case of privacy being good, surveillance being bad.

We have identified 4 vectors of study to help us categorise technologies and contextualise decisions. Each vector contains two poles of the same privacy-related construct.

The first vector is Security / Control. It explores the way privacy is being exchanged for the promise of security, and how this trade helps governments and institutions to manipulate or control certain societal behaviours. In Personalisation / Information Leakage, we explore the usage of personal data by companies and devices, showing how the sharing of personal data can provide more targeted services and create an intricate relation of benefits and disadvantages. The next segment, Transparency / Information Leakage, evinces the sharing society, where individuals feel increasingly comfortable sharing private information. Finally, Anonymity / Identity Breach delves into the creation and editing of digital personas and the difficulty of maintaining personal privacy in a surveilled society.

The 4 vectors of privacy can sometimes overlap due to the fluidity inherent to privacy as a concept. By considering these 4 segments individually, we provide a number of different lenses through which the reader can contextualise the emerging effects of surveillance and privacy.

This study aims to illustrate the paradoxical conflict between our desire for increased utility through optimisation and increased autonomy through privacy. By exploring our interactive technology visualisation tool and our narrative, you can situate yourself in a near future where decisions around privacy are not clear-cut. We will present the seductive nature of voluntary surveillance and the steep cost of mass adoption. We will ground the narrative in the emerging technologies that facilitate these future scenarios. We have created a personalised radar tool that can show you the technologies most relevant to you based on the decisions you’ve made in the narrative.


L’Atelier is a prospective research subsidiary of BNP Paribas Group that investigates and identifies new and emerging technology-related markets, with an intention to create solutions and IP relevant to those areas.

In partnership with Envisioning, we mapped 60+ technologies related to privacy and developed an interactive storytelling scenario in which we show how such technologies may affect our lives in the near future. Each of the 60+ technologies was assessed using NASA’s Technology Readiness Level (TRL) method, leveraged according to their maturity on a scale from 1 (basic principles being tested) to 9 (technology is already being incorporated into our lives).

Envisioning is a virtual research institute that provides technological foresight to decision makers worldwide. Our global team of academics, hackers and designers studies technologies to understand the acceleration of change. In this research, we aim to raise awareness about how complex and abstract this society can be with regard to privacy, and provide the tools to support more cognisant decisions about the usage and sharing of data.