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What If There Was No Privacy on The Internet?

In the year 2059, an 18th birthday is no reason to celebrate. When Alex was a kid, he had heard legends of Reveal Day. It was something the older kids used to tell them about on the playground to scare them, but he had never imagined that it would actually happen. Now, that day had finally arrived.

Alex awoke on the morning of his 18th birthday—January 1st— in a cold sweat. He had been dreaming that he was being chased. Running for his life, he did not see the face of the ominous figure following after him at an inhuman speed, but he knew that if he was caught, something unspeakable would happen.

Moments after he had opened his eyes, Alex heard a knock on his door. He recoiled in his bed, drawing the covers up to his eyes in fear. It was too soon—The District was not supposed to come take him until noon.

The door creaked open, and his mother’s saccharine voice permeated the air.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart!” His mother, ever the optimist, cooed, walking in to sit down on the edge of his bed. Sensing his panic, she reached out, holding his hand in hers as if she could assuage his fears through osmosis.

His father walked in behind her, his footsteps heavy on the floor. He laid down a plate of peanut butter-banana pancakes on the bed with a solemnity that was unlike his usual exuberant and gregarious self. “Happy birthday, son,” he said, his eyes not leaving the floor below him.

Alex grimaced. He could see the effort his parents were going through to reassure him. They had saved up all year to buy peanut butter—a rare luxury since the legume had nearly been eradicated due to the Great Allergy. He put on his bravest face, lifting the corners of his mouth with every ounce of strength he had. “Thanks, guys. Really.”

“You ready for today?” His mother asked, feigning courage.

Alex knew what the day entailed. His parents would leave for work. He would get out of bed, brush his teeth, shower. Instead of reaching for the quotidian navy slacks, collared shirt and sweater he wore every day to school, he would put on The Uniform, the pristine white version specifically designated for Special Occasions—births, deaths, Internet Day and Reveal Day. He would walk downstairs to his kitchen and plug in his electrodes to receive his morning nutrition. At 11:59 a.m., he would open his front door and walk to the end of his driveway. At 12:00 p.m., and not a minute earlier or later, a car from The District would arrive to take him to the Reveal, where every child in the town of Forks, WA in their 18th year of birth would be gathered in one large room, empty but for a projector and a screen encompassing the entirety of the walls.

He remembered Internet Day like it was yesterday. On January 1st of your eleventh year of birth, each child receives their Username—a predetermined combination of digits that easily identifies each user. The Username is the key to accessing the Internet—the only way to access the Internet. It is a joyous occasion. Most regard Internet Day as the day when life truly begins. Reveal Day, on the other hand, is regarded as the day when most lives can be broken.

The year 2016 ushered in a dark period in the history of the country. Human rights and basic liberties were threatened. Identity exploration came under fire. In the year 2018, the Federal Communication Commission repealed Net Neutrality, the principal protecting free and open access to the Internet. It wasn’t long after that that the government instated Reveal Day.

Reveal Day happens on the first day of the first month of every year. On this day, every child in their 18th year in every District across the United States is gathered into a room, where their entire Internet History is projected onto a screen in front of their District—parents, teachers, peers, friends and foes.

After the repeal of Net Neutrality, net denizens began to rebel. The government decided that the only way to promote trustworthiness in its economy and society was to collect inordinate amounts of data to have at its disposal. However, that was not enough. The government also decided to instate a policy of Public Transparency, or what Alex and the rest of the kids refer to as Public Humiliation.

Gone were the days of pseudonymity on the Internet. It still existed, in theory. After receiving their Username on Internet Day, kids were still allowed to choose their “usernames” for chatrooms, emails, BBS and other computer mediated communication systems. To one another, they were anonymous. But, in practice, pseudonymity was nothing but a façade. To the government, they were their Username, and every single thing they did online was recorded and stored for Reveal Day.

There were always loopholes—ways to access black markets and banned books without using the Internet (i.e., without The District knowing), but the reason why Reveal Day had been so successful was because most of the community has embraced it. After all, what did they have to hide? Most of them never knew a time when privacy existed anyway. They didn’t have to change their behavior online, and they liked the favor with the government being regarded as trustworthy gave them. But, some of them had heard stories of the days before the Reveal. And they wanted their privacy back.

Alex’s parents left him alone to get ready. At 11:59am, he was out the door, and at 12:00pm, the car arrived.

The ride to the auditorium where the Reveal was happening was less than a mile, but it stretched on for an eternity. Staring out the window, Alex’s heart raced as he envisioned the moment he anticipated most. The moment when he would learn to true identity of redheadgirl123, and she would learn his. For months he had been chatting online with someone he had developed real feelings for. He stared longingly out the window, recalling their most recent conversation.

[Soccerboy9]: how old r u?

[redheadgirl123]: say together on 3?

[Soccerboy9]: 1

[redheadgirl123]: 2

[Soccerboy9]: 3

[redheadgirl123]: 17

[Soccerboy9]: 17

[redheadgirl123]: woah. & ur bday?

[Soccerboy9]: jan 1… Urs?

[redheadgirl123]: sept 18

[Soccerboy9]: oh. So u’ll b @ the Rev?

[redheadgirl123]: guess so :/ u?

[Soccerboy9]: yeah. I guess we r finally gonna meet

[redheadgirl123]: I’m nervuz

[Soccerboy9]: dnt b :). I gtg. Talk soon <3

[redheadgirl123]: wait

[Soccerboy9]: wut?

[redheadgirl123]: ily

[redheadgirl123]: u still there?

[Soccerboy9]: yea. just happy. Ily2.

Soccerboy9 has left the chat.

Today, on January 1st, 2059, Alex would finally learn who redheadgirl123 was. Would their relationship be the same once not just their Usernames but their Histories were revealed?

The car pulled up to the Auditorium. Each step he took felt like he was moving against a current. He opened the door to the building and was escorted to his assigned seat. He sat and looked to his right. A girl with crimson hair was seated beside him. Their eyes locked, and for a moment, he wasn’t so afraid after all.


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