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L-R: Kashmir Hill of Forbes, Casey Oppenheim of Disconnect, Bill Kerrigan of Abine, Mike Janke of Silent Circle and Jim Brock of AVG Technologies during the Privacy Identity Innovation conference in Seattle today.

Listening to the speakers at this year’s Privacy Identity Innovation conference — experts with years of experience on the front lines of privacy issues — is enough to scare the pants off the average person.

First there was Ladar Levison (founder of the email service used by Edward Snowden) saying that he has sensitive conversations only in person, with his mobile phone off, in a place where no one can point a parabolic mic.

Today at the conference, former Navy SEAL Michael Janke, co-founder of encrypted communications startup Silent Circle, acknowledged that he keeps one of his PCs completely disconnected from the Internet, and uses ‘burner’ mobile phones when he travels.

Yikes. It’s probably time to at least set a password on your smartphone.

But is all of this newfound awareness fueling new business opportunities in privacy protection? Experts at the pii2013 conference are actually divided on that topic.

“I don’t think that privacy should be a competitive differentiator for companies,” said Anne Toth of Trustworks Privacy Advisors, a former privacy executive for Google and Yahoo, during a session this morning. “You can lose on privacy if you screw it up, but seldom are you going to win based solely on privacy.”

But during a session later in the day, several panelists pursuing business opportunities in privacy disagreed with that assessment.

“For the first time ever I think online privacy is a mass market opportunity,” said Casey Oppenheim, co-founder of Disconnect, a startup that helps people keep themselves from being tracked by advertisers online.

Bill Kerrigan, CEO of online privacy startup Abine and a former top McAfee executive, compared the current groundswell in privacy awareness to the high-profile security vulnerabilities that fueled the rise of the major security software vendors years ago.

“We’re very close to that tipping point today with privacy,” said Kerrigan, noting that many of the top minds in computer engineering and software development are now working on privacy technologies.

Jim Brock, vice president of privacy products at AVG Technologies, noted out that the amount of behavior modification required for do-it-yourself privacy protection is “beyond the average person.”

“It’s all about making it really simple, and easy to use,” he said.

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