Beyond the Black
Privacy is a prized possession for most inhabitants of the solar system, but it is so rare that for many people it might as well be a foreign concept. In the 20th and early 21st century, privacy consisted of two concepts that are now completely separate—the ability to remain unnoticed or anonymous and the ability to avoid unwanted intrusion. The first is largely absent from the lives of most people in the present day. Anyone who uploads anything to a non-private portion of the mesh understands that anyone who wishes to do so can gain access to it. Likewise, anyone who spends time in a public place understands that anyone can learn where they went, what they did, and what they said due to the ubiquity of meshed, sensor-enabled devices. As a result, everyone’s public life, both on the mesh and in person, can be transformed into an easily searchable database. Almost everyone keeps such a record of their own lives, commonly known as a lifelog. Most people allow their lifelogs to be public, understanding that anonymity is now an archaic concept.
While the interiors of private dwellings remain free from continuous surveillance, almost all habitats have emergency sensors in every building providing a full record of events to emergency service workers and AIs in case of problems such as dangerous chemical leak, a sufficiently large fire, an explosion, loss of air pressure, or some other equally dramatic and potentially dangerous event. Both the events of the Fall and the fact that almost all of humanity now lives in habitats surrounded by hostile environments mean that such sensors are standard fare. A few habitats do not allow emergency sensors in private dwellings, but most people regard these habitats as potential death traps. These emergency sensors do not record anything other than the absence of potential dangers if they are not triggered by specific events. This limitation allows individuals privacy within their own residences—as long as they are certain no one has planted a secret recording device in their home. Ultimately, remaining unobserved is a matter of both care and trust, and everyone understands that most of the time everything they do will be part of the vast public record.
In vivid contrast, the freedom to avoid unwanted intrusion is carefully prized by the inhabitants of the post-Fall era. Unwanted personal or data intrusion into someone’s private dwelling or personal electronic files is a crime in most habitats and a serious crime in many. Also, while both the mesh and augmented reality are filled with all manner of AI-mediated adware, most of it has evolved to be relatively benign and to provide non-intrusive suggestions about goods, information, and services that are likely to be of legitimate interest to the targeted person. An individual’s muse filters out unwanted advertising. While it is certainly possible to create advertising that can hack through any muse’s filters, doing so is usually illegal.
Unwanted AR intrusions are similarly limited. During the early days of AR technology, there were serious problems with users being overwhelmed with unrequested and distracting input—as many said, the mist got very thick indeed, so both law and custom changed to prevent such invasions. Today, most people expect to only experience data that they are looking for or that they might be interested in, and that any data they are not interested in will quickly vanish. Being surrounded by a large amount of unwanted AR data is not just annoying and distracting, it is also deeply frightening, because it means that there is a serious problem with either the habitat’s mesh or the person’s electronics—it could even mean that the entire habitat is under direct attack by infowar weapons.