What’s scarier than hosts gone rogue? Westworld’s idea for privacy laws


Enlarge / Surely everyone in the world could trust these guys with 100% of their personal data, right?

Delos Destinations—the company behind Westworld, Shogunworld, and other living theme parks—is optimistic about US lawmakers’ ability to eventually agree on and enact some kind of sweeping privacy regulation. That day will come, HBO’s fictional company tells us, in 2039: 19 years from today.

Email users who subscribed to Westworld updates from Delos Destinations may have received a message today about the Privacy Act of 2039 and its projected impact on Delos experiences.

“As you may have heard,” the email from “Delos” begins, “US Congress has just passed the Privacy Act of 2039, which will be effective starting today. You will begin to see the impact of this legislation roll out over the coming weeks.” The missive continues:

All corporations with a digital footprint are required to be compliant with this new initiative, affecting the way your private information is collected, stored, shared, and processed. As part of this new overhaul, legislators have partnered with Incite to provide a clearer path to radical data transparency, putting control back in the hands of consumers.

In a cynical but perhaps genuinely American move, the message posits that enforcement and management of data privacy regulation will fall to a likewise fictional private company, Incite Inc., which we heard about before in a hidden trailer. The message also directs users to visit InciteInc.com for more information.

The Incite website feels like a master class in privacy buzzwords. Incite purports to be “donating our revolutionary algorithms to help monitor and regulate the entire technology industry, setting a global standard for consensual data collection and handling.”

It goes on: “Our mission is to make sure you benefit from your own data, to sort through the chaos and show you what you like, what you want, and what you need.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Given that the “short video demonstration of your future with Incite” that follows is the Westworld season 3 trailer… probably quite a lot, in fact.

Westworld was not shy in season 2 about drawing parallels to the current era of Big Data and all the companies engaged in the collection and trading of information that keep us surrounded by digital doppelgängers. Many reviewers called out Facebook for a point of comparison, as viewers learned that the parks are a secondary enterprise to Delos’ core data-mining and surveillance operations.

Here in 2020, meanwhile, there are currently no fewer than three competing privacy proposals in Congress, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. The odds of any of them becoming law in the near future are so dismal that you could be forgiven for thinking 2039 is overly ambitious. But maybe times will change.



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