Many of my free market friends have beenmaking the case that government action is unnecessary to address the privacy trouble in which Facebook has recently found itself. I agree with them completely. The reason is that I believe that the given choice, individuals acting in the market will act to discipline unscrupulous or stupid companies. This is precisely what we’ve begun to see happen to Facebook.
It therefore bothers me when folks go beyond mere defense of free market to pretending that corporations can do no wrong. Facebook, for example, has committed a terrible breach of trust against its users, and it should pay the price. Still, on the NetChoice blog, Steve DelBianco writes this about Facebook’s new privacy options:
Facebook is making these moves partly to placate a handful of professional privacy critics, as we described on our post this week. But as with most moves made in reaction to critics, there’s a chance Facebook might have moved too far.
As part of this change, Facebook is making it trivial for users to stop applications and websites from knowing anything about you. If lots of users select this option, I’m afraid it could restrict Facebook’s use of targeted advertising (those ads on the right side of your Facebook pages) and their new instant personalization program. Here’s why we should all be concerned if everyone opts-out of sharing anything:
First, we’ll still see ads, only they won’t be so relevant[.] … Second, and far more concerning, is the effect on Facebook’s ad revenue[.]
I’m not a “professional privacy critic,” yet I know I’ll never trust Facebook with any of my data ever again. I hear the same sentiment from many of my friends, acquaintances, and other regular folks I follow online. Sometimes, companies react because they made a dumb mistake (or perhaps in this case a repeated one that makes one wonder whether it’s a mistake at all), not only in response to privacy advocates. I know Steve’s saying Facebook’s only partly reacting to critics, but I believe that any such fraction is very small.
Next, yes, people might choose to restrict access to their data so much that it might diminish the relevance of ads served to them and threaten Facebook’s revenue stream. To the first matter, the whole point of a market is that consumers get to have choice. More privacy traded for less relevant ads is a choice I’m happy to see individual users make if they think that’s what’s best for them. I think users are smart enough to make those choices, and we see that they’re happy to make a trade of less privacy for more relevant ads when they trust a company. I don’t see Google facing the same kind of user backlash Facebook perennially faces.
To the second point, Facebook is not entitled to any revenue whatsoever. Might a user revolt kill their service and squelch their ability to innovate? Yes, but as long as this fate is the result of the choices of individuals made in a free market, that’s perfectly fine. In fact, it’s what markets are for. If Facebook can’t make money, then what does this tell you about how much users value the service?
I for one find little useful or desirable about Facebook’s “instant personalization” or “social plugin” technologies. To my mind they are vastly inferior to open web standards. If they go the way of the Dodo, I wouldn’t think it a tragedy. And as long as regulation is kept at bay, innovation won’t suffer because users will take their eyeballs and their trust to other services. We don’t need Facebook to keep innovating.
President Obama’s “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” met for the second time today. They have just three more meetings before the panel releases its recommendations on December 1st. So, what’s the big news out of the meeting? It’s hard to know because the event seems to have gone completely uncovered in the press.
Perhaps internet culture has spoiled me, and maybe we’ll in fact see coverage in tomorrow’s morning papers, but right now, three hours after the meeting ended, I find no trace of coverage. Not from the AP, Reuters, or Bloomberg, and not from NYT, WaPo, or WSJ. The only thing I’ve found is a blog post from The Hill.
What does this tell us about the press? That they don’t think this meeting was that important. At the last meeting, Bernanke and Orszag testified, and it was widely covered. This time mere academics spoke. (Carmen Reinhardt pointed out that gross debt is approaching 90 percent of GDP, that this will drag down the economy, and that this will lead to further debt spiral. She counseled “austerity.”)
What does this tell us about the commission? I don’t want to overstate the point, but I think it says what everyone knows: that presidential commission go nowhere. Name the last presidential commission whose recommendations were heeded by Congress. As Judd Gregg pointed out before he joined the commission,
Numerous commissions have been created by executive order over the years, and their common thread is that none have produced any legislative results. How can they? No one has any real responsibility, or expectation of action, and so their recommendations collect dust on a shelf.
In which case, is the commission simply an election-year detente? Have we postponed seriously dealing with the problem until December so that both parties can avoid having to vote for the painful cuts and likely tax increases that are inevitable? How much worse will things get between now and then?
Ex-Hacker Adrian Lamo Institutionalized for Asperger’s
According to Wired’s Threat Level, noted hacker Adrian Lamo was institutionalized against his will for 9 days last month. He was released with a diagnosis of Aspberger’s. The whole article is an interesting read, but what fascinated me is how folks on the autism spectrum can go for so long without being diagnosed and how they’re surprised when they find out. From the article:
Also anecdotally, people with Asperger’s are frequently diagnosed in adulthood, even into their 50s, according to the U.S. Autism and Asperger’s Association. As in Lamo’s case, the diagnosis often follows a run-in with the police, says Dennis Debbaudt, an independent consultant who trains law enforcement agencies on interacting with people on the autistic spectrum.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the launch of the Congressional Transparency Caucus. A (somewhat weird) idea that was discussed was improving Freedom of Information Act requests for the purpose of helping the dying newspaper industry. Like I said, weird.
In general, though, the FOIA process definitely stands improvement. Once a federal agency receives and complies with a FOIA request, it should not only give the requested information to the requester, but also publish it to its website so it’s available to all. Today, the same in-demand documents can be laboriously requested many times by different individuals.
Transparency Caucus co-chair Rep. Darrell Issa made the interesting suggestion that there might need to be a deliberate delay between when an agency complies with a journalist’s FOIA request and when it publishes it on the web. Otherwise competing journalists will be able to see what the requesting journalist is sniffing around for thereby destroying any investigative scoop. Issa likened his suggestion to a patent or copyright for journalistic ingenuity.
Now comes word that Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago is doing exactly the opposite. To annoy his enemies in the press, his new transparency policy goes out of its way to disclose what all is being FOIA’d and by whom:
In the name of “transparency,” Mayor Daley on Thursday got some measure of revenge against the investigative reporters who’ve made his life miserable by digging up dirt on the Hired Truck, city hiring and minority contracting scandals.
He revamped the city’s new website to include a log of all Freedom of Information Act requests. The list includes the name and organization of each applicant, documents demanded and dates the information was requested and is due to be released.
A new state law merely requires city departments to maintain such a log — not to post it on the Internet to tip investigative reporters about the trail being followed by competitors.
But Daley gleefully declared that he was going “above and beyond what’s required” in the interest of “transparency, openness and the free-flow of information.”
“If you want transparency in government, you have to have this. I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with [getting even with] the Sun-Times, Tribune, media or anything. This is what you want,” Daley said.
This is very amusing. For what it’s worth, I don’t think the government owes journalists or any other profession any special consideration. I also don’t understand why the requester’s identity should be disclosed, either.
I think I may have mentioned this here before, but I have a weekly podcast. Each week I interview a thinker, author, or doer in the internet policy space. I’m going to start posting them here for your amusement, though if you like them you should subscribe in iTunes.
This week we have Prof. David G. Post on what Jefferson can teach us about the internet. Last week we had a great chat with Tyler Cowen (sorry about the so-so audio quality on that one). Check out the whole archive here.
“If you want to buy a horse and you go to the horse store, and see one that looks really cool because it has flames coming out, fight temptation. Don’t buy that one. It is on fire and it will die shortly.”—Cartoon Penis
Via Gruber, here is a new BBC interview with Mick Jagger. He makes a very interesting point about music sales:
But I have a take on that - people only made money out of records for a very, very small time. When The Rolling Stones started out, we didn’t make any money out of records because record companies wouldn’t pay you! They didn’t pay anyone!
Then, there was a small period from 1970 to 1997, where people did get paid, and they got paid very handsomely and everyone made money. But now that period has gone.
So if you look at the history of recorded music from 1900 to now, there was a 25 year period where artists did very well, but the rest of the time they didn’t.
Don’t stop at 1900, though. If you think of the entire history of the world, the notion that you could make an outsized return on making music is a complete aberration.
Until I read Tyler’s book, I never realized that autism had such a bad connotation associated with it, aside perhaps from it being considered a disability with which you wouldn’t want your child diagnosed. Now I see these views everywhere. Here are two from the last day, and interestingly they are both about Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
Based on Ben Mezrich’s 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires, it portrays Zuckerberg as a borderline autistic, entirely ruthless conniver.
Perhaps there is a class of folks on the autism spectrum who use their ‘powers’ for evil, and this is where the prejudice originates? And perhaps Zuckerberg’s recent troubles, if he is autistic, stem from misreading Facebook’s users?
This is a Washington Post profile of Tyler Cowen, who I work with at GMU. This week I had Tyler on my podcast to talk about Lost, the iPad, blog comments, and much more. You can listen to that episode here. And if you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, why not? Check it out the past guests here and subscribe on iTunes.
At globalrichlist.com you can enter in your annual income and see how you rank in the world. It’s a wonderful and wonderfully designed site that aims to make you feel rich so you’ll donate to a good cause.
I’m always telling folks who fret about how little they make that we’re not just richer than most on earth, but most that ever lived. Someone making an entry level salary of $35k in DC is still in the top 5% of income earners in the world.
>If you have ever wanted Oprah Winfrey to follow you on Twitter, you might have been able to make that possible early Monday morning, when a software bug surfaced on Twitter’s Web site. … The bug was first revealed by a Turkish man who wanted to tell his friends on Twitter about a band, “Accept,” that he enjoyed listening to. When the man typed “Accept pwns” into the update box on Twitter, he noticed that a user by the name of @pwns was now following him on the site.
That’s from an NYT post on the Twitter bug that allowed one to add themselves to anyone else’s following list. If you could make someone else follow you, who would it be?