Imagine purchasing a new tablet computer, the kind you see all over the place these days. It has a touchscreen, a camera or two, a microphone or two, speakers, wireless networking, perhaps a connection to the cell network, bluetooth, perhaps a memory stick, and a charging/data port. Until you connect it to the Internet, it won't do a whole lot for you. Until then you get a calendar, a clock, a camera, a game or two, and not much else. After taking away your ability to browse the web, install an app, copy over music or movies, purchase a book, share photos or videos, and it's hard to imagine how much value this tablet could provide. But let's try.
So now we start over, this time with a tablet that has no way to connect to a network: no wireless, no cell network, no bluetooth, and no cable. That seems like a dire situation, so we might as well take a few more steps: no camera, no microphone, no speakers, and no memory stick. Now it's pretty much a paperweight. Let's call it a BrickTab.
Long ago, personal computers weren't networked at all. They were bulky, ugly, hard to use, and cost several thousands of dollars. Many people bought them, figured them out, and extracted plenty of value from them. But that was an unfortunate time. Now everything has to be connected to the Internet. Right?
No. A dozen times no. Even a BrickTab has vast potential value, given the right perspective.
Since a BrickTab wouldn't be networked and lacks features that might allow for other means of unauthorized access, the challenges of privacy, trust, and information security essentially vanish. It's like having an invisibility cloak: if anyone wants your information, they'll have to work very hard to get it. Unlike now where you're simply giving it away.
When you're invisible, the risk of automated attacks is reduced to nearly nothing. Accidental or unwitting information exposure is no longer a problem either. Internet-connected computers are so complex and opaque that it's impossible for even the most dedicated expert to guarantee that their own computers are trustworthy and not leaking information. The situation is worse for everyone else.
With a BrickTab, the scope of trust is much smaller. The attack surface in a regular tablet, smartphone, or personal computer is so large and with so many third parties involved that a reasonable level of trust is impossible. It's a bit like the difference between a stealth bomber and a jumbo jet; one is completely vulnerable while the other attacks alert, hostile nations with impunity.
If the BrickTab's software was broadly accessible, capable of mirroring your actions and presenting good options, it would offer accumulative value. Digitizing detailed personal information is sensible only in a highly secure environment, so that's a very good match. And by offering very limited ways to extract information, the user would control sharing and publishing, reversing the established flow.
None of that value depends on a connection to the Internet. The greatest potential value may even depend on the absence of such connectivity as we gain the benefits of actual trust.