He was an international sensation and a household name. As a young man, he crystallized himself in the history books, and his legend will only grow over generations. He is a hero and a criminal, loved and hated.
Look, I am not an app geek. I have been a late adopter of every social media platform.
But right now when I open my phones permissions, I can see that:
- 23 apps have access to my microphone
- 34 apps have access to my location
- 19 apps have access to my camera and photos
- 9 apps have access to my calendar
What does that mean?
23 companies are listening to my conversations.
34 are tracking my whereabouts.
Think you are any different?
Go to your phone settings > apps and notifications > permissions
Chances are that just like me, you are not just being watched. You are being followed and listened to.
Frequently, I hear people mention that they had a conversation with a friend about a product, and shortly after realize they have been targeted by online ads for that product.
“Could my phone have heard me?” they ask?
Of course. Your conversation wasn’t just heard. It was recorded and sold.
Should this bother me?
I am concerned that privacy as I have always understood it, no longer exists.
On the other hand, I try to not to get upset by things I can’t change - and yes, in my opinion, we are way passed the point of no return.
So the real question is, how will the world change, if we ALL live in glass houses...?
This is a theme that I have covered at our conferences for a few years.
One of the most challenging parts of my job, is finding the right keynotes for the right topics.
In 2017, I knew the guy I needed.
He was an international sensation, a household name, and the biggest disrupter of data and privacy that the world had ever seen.
Only problem, he was also an international fugitive.
Do you know how challenging it is to hire an international fugitive to keynote at a conference? Pretty challenging.
By a stroke of luck, I got the contact of one of his lawyers (he probably has 30). With no guarantees in place, I wired $50K off to a numbered account and crossed my fingers.
He was to appear via Skype.
The mystery continued for the next three months. Whenever we tried to get in touch to cover agenda timing and details, there was a new contact, and a new Skype handle. We never actually heard from Snowden.
Not everyone was pleased that we had booked him.
My title sponsor for the event was one of the big four accounting firms. They called me before I had sent away Snowden’s money,
“Are you actually booking Edward Snowden to speak?”
“Yes! Crazy isn’t it?”
“Yes. You are f***ing crazy. If you book him we are out.”
Little did I know, Snowden’s leaks had compromised some of this firm’s biggest clients, and they wouldn’t go near the event if Snowden was on the schedule.
I thought about it. A $50K payment to Snowden. And I’d lose a $50K sponsor. This was going to cost me $100K.
As one of my mentors, Marin Katusa, says, “Fortune Favours the Bold”.
I pulled the trigger.
The response over the next two months was very hot and cold. People legitimately love or hate this guy.
My anxiety was more focused on whether or not he would actually appear. Was the numbered account real? Was that actually one of his lawyers? I had no way to verify.
One hour before his scheduled appearance, with a jammed room of 1000 people, we were sent a random Skype handle, and told that 5 min before the hour, Snowden would be on the video call.
The nerves were eating me. This was a monumental featured speaker. And I had no idea whether this would come to fruition.
Bruce Croxon from CBC’s Dragon’s Den (the predecessor of Shark Tank), hosted the conversation. Snowden gave an amazingly transparent talk.
Bruce’s final question was personal. It was the final days of the Obama Presidency, and he asked Snowden if he was hoping for a phone call from the President, offering a Pardon.
He went quiet, and looked down at the ground...
“My story doesn’t have a happy ending. I will never get that call. But I believe in what I did.”
His words hit the room with weight. We were staring at a man that was in hiding in Moscow. He knew that he was an Ace of Spades up Putins’s sleeve, and eventually would be played.
My fascination for disrupters and international headline makers didn't stop there.
In 2018 I booked Christopher Wylie, carrying on my apparent love affair with whistle-blowers. Wylie was at the centre of the Cambridge Analytica scandal responsible for influencing both the Brexit vote and the 2016 US Election of President Donald Trump.
If Snowden showed us that everything we do is being monitored, Wylie showed us how that personal information can be leveraged to form a narrative.
This year, at the 2019 Extraordinary Future Conference, I want to answer a new question:
Without abandoning modern society, is it possible to retain, or regain, our privacy?
Are there tools we can use to prevent our movements, transactions and conversations from being sold on the open market?
And if not - what does this mean for the future of our culture?
This year I had read about a journalist who had been contracted to find out. Outfitted with the most sophisticated spy gear on the market - from phone scramblers to remailers, Joel Stein spent a week evading the Silicon Valley.