Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

The Future of Privacy

About this Report and Canvassing

This report is the latest in a sustained effort throughout 2014 by the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project to mark the 25th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (The Web at 25). It includes the responses of hundreds of experts to a question about the future of privacy in the coming decade. It is part of a series of reports tied to the Web’s birthday; some of the studies look at how far Internet use has penetrated people’s lives and some examine experts’ assessments of the technology environment by 2025. The findings we describe in this report emerge in the context of these earlier reports:

A later October 2014 Digital Life report on “Cyber Attacks Likely to Increase” from Pew Research and Elon University looked at experts views about the prospects for attacks on nation-states, key utilities and other industries, and on consumers.

This report is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of the following individuals:

Lee Rainie, Director, Internet, Science and Technology Research Prof. Janna Anderson, Director, Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center

Find related reports about the future of the Internet at

About this Canvassing of Experts

The expert predictions reported here about the impact of the Internet over the next 10 years came in response to one of eight questions asked by the Pew Research Center Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between November 25, 2013, and January 13, 2014. This is the sixth Internet study the two organizations have conducted together since 2004. For this project, we invited more than 12,000 experts and members of the interested public to share their opinions on the likely future of the Internet and 2,551 responded to at least one of the questions we asked. Some 2,511 responded to this question about the future of privacy.

The Web-based instrument was fielded to three audiences. The first was a list of targeted experts identified and accumulated by Pew Research and Elon University during the five previous rounds of this study, as well as those identified across 12 years of studying the Internet realm during its formative years. The second wave of solicitation was targeted to prominent listservs of Internet analysts, including lists titled: Association of Internet Researchers, Internet Rights and Principles, Liberation Technology, American Political Science Association, Cybertelecom, and the Communication and Information Technologies section of the American Sociological Association. The third audience was the mailing list of the Pew Research Center Internet Project, which includes those who closely follow technology trends, data, and themselves are often builders of parts of the online world. While most people who responded live in North America, people from across the world were invited to participate.

Overall, 2,511 respondents weighed in on the following questions:

Security, liberty, privacy online—Will policy makers and technology innovators create a secure, popularly accepted, and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025 that allows for business innovation and monetization while also offering individuals choices for protecting their personal information in easy-to-use formats?

Please elaborate on your answer. (Begin with your name if you are willing to have your comments attributed to you.) Describe what you think the reality will be in 2025 when it comes to the overall public perception about whether policy makers and corporations have struck the right balance between personal privacy, secure data, and compelling content and apps that emerge from consumer tracking and analytics.

Bonus question: Consider the future of privacy in a broader social context. How will public norms about privacy be different in 2025 from the way they are now?

Since the data are based on a non-random sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample. The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise. About 84% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of Internet interest,” 19% identified themselves as research scientists; 9% said they were entrepreneurs or business leaders; 10% as authors, editors or journalists; 8% as technology developers or administrators; 8% as advocates or activist users; 7% said they were futurists or consultants; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; 2% as pioneers or originators; and 33% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”

On this particular question many of the respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their Internet expertise or background.

Here are some of the key respondents in this report:

Miguel Alcaine, International Telecommunication Union area representative for Central America; Jari Arkko, chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force; Francois-Dominique Armingaud, formerly a computer engineer for IBM now teaching security; danah boyd, research scientist at Microsoft; Stowe Boyd, lead at GigaOM Research; David Brin, author of The Transparent Society; Bob Briscoe, chief researcher for British Telecom; Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google; David Clark, senior scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; Glenn Edens, research scientist at PARC and IETF area chair; Jeremy Epstein, lead director for the US National Science Foundation’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program; Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner; Bob Frankston, Internet pioneer and innovator; Dan Gordon of Valhalla Partners; Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft; Joel Halpern a distinguished engineer at Ericsson; Jim Hendler, Semantic Web scientist and professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Francis Heylighen, a Belgian cyberneticist investigating the evolution of intelligent organization; Christian Huitema, distinguished engineer with Microsoft; Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center at the City University of New York; Mike Leibhold, senior researcher at the Institute for the Future; Herb Lin, chief scientist for the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board at the US National Academies of Science; Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information; Alice Marwick, author of Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age; Peter McCann, a senior staff engineer in the telecommunications industry; Jerry Michalski, founder of REX, the Relationship Economy eXpedition; Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List; Ian Peter, pioneer Internet activist and Internet rights advocate; Raymond Plzak, former CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, now a member of the board of ICANN; Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review; Howard Rheingold, pioneering Internet sociologist; Mike Roberts, Internet Hall of Famer and longtime leader with ICANN; Mark Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center; Paul Saffo, managing director of Discern Analytics and consulting associate professor at Stanford; Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member; Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards and host of The Future Starts Here; Barbara Simons, former president of ACM and board chair for Verified Voting; Doc Searls, director of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center; and Hal Varian, chief economist for Google.

Here is a selection of other institutions at which respondents work or have affiliations:

Yahoo; Intel; IBM; Hewlett-Packard; Nokia; Amazon; Netflix; Verizon; PayPal; BBN; Comcast; US Congress; EFF; W3C; The Web Foundation; NASA; Association of Internet Researchers; Bloomberg News; World Future Society; ACM; the Aspen Institute; GigaOm; the Markle Foundation; the Network Information Center; key offices of US and European Union governments; the Internet Engineering Task Force; the Internet Hall of Fame; ARIN; Nominet; Oxford Internet Institute; Princeton, Yale, Brown, Georgetown, Carnegie-Mellon, Duke, Purdue, Florida State and Columbia universities; the universities of Pennsylvania, California-Berkeley, Southern California, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Kentucky, Maryland, Kansas, Texas-Austin, Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Boston College.

Complete sets of credited and anonymous responses to this question, featuring many dozens of additional opinions, can be found on the Imagining the Internet site:

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