Privacy Hearing & Briefings This Week: More Non-sense about Non-harms of Online Advertising

by on November 15, 2009 · 9 comments

This will be a busy week for those who follow privacy policy in Washington:

  1. Monday (11/16) 11 am: the coalition of 10 so-called “privacy advocacy” groups that recently demanded sweeping regulation of online data collection and use will be holding a briefing for congressional staffers on their demands in 2322 Rayburn House Office Building.
  2. Wednesday (11/17), 4 pm: A “bipartisan briefing for staff of Members on the Subcommittees” in 2322 Rayburn, followed by a Democratic staff briefing.
  3. Thursday (11/18), 10 am: The House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology & the Internet and Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade & Consumer Protection will hold a joint hearing on “Exploring the Offline and Online Collection and Use of Consumer Information” in 2123 Rayburn.

The witness list for Thursday’s hearing has not yet been released, but reportedly includes Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum and Prof. Chris Hoofnagle of Berkeley Law, as well as three industry representatives (but no skeptics of regulation from outside of industry, who might ask “whether privacy advocates” really have consumers interests at heart). Dixon and Hoofnagle may well be the only two people on the planet who could rival Jeff Chester in their paranoia about online advertising.

Jell-oSo I suspect the hearing will consist largely of the two of them trying to dodge the question Adam Thierer and I keep asking: What’s the harm that requires government regulation? For them—and for David Vladeck—the new head of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection—the answer seems to be that no real harm need be established to justify regulation, whatever the cost to consumers of regulation, because “harm” may be defined by anecdote and in terms of “dignity interests”—a legal standard that has all the intellectual and factual rigor of a plate full of Jell-O shots (intoxicating and fun for parties but squishy with little real substance).

Adam and I will be raising this and other questions at the FTC’s Exploring Privacy workshop on December 7.  I will be participating in the online behavioral advertising panel, and PFF President Adam Thierer will be participating in the consumer expectations/surveys panel. Check out my comments to the FTC for more on our perspective.

  • logicalextremes2

    I suppose there need to be dead bodies to demonstrate enough harm to justify legal protection? Just for the moment, set aside the most obvious risks of fraud, data breach, identity theft, abuse of personal information such as employment or insurance discrimination, etc…

    Is it not enough that privacy is a fundamental human right, protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the US Constitution? [see http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.sht

    Is it not enough that the US falls well behind particularly its Canadian and EU counterparts in comprehensively protecting the privacy of its residents? [see http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.sht… & http://supreme.justia.com/constitution/amendmen

    Is it not enough that individuals are at a significant disadvantage relative to well-funded organizations with regard to information about, and power over, what information about them gets collected and how it may get used in different (and many times unintended) ways over time? [see http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/03/p… & I'd also suggest familiarization with some of Daniel Solove's basic publications on privacy: http://docs.law.gwu.edu/facweb/dsolove/publicat

    Is it not enough that government uses a loophole in the Privacy Act of 1974 to obtain massive amounts of commercially-collected personal information, effectively creating a public-private surveillance partnership? [see http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technolo… & http://www.eff.org/issues/privacy

    Is it not enough that most Americans do not want targeted advertising, that self-regulation has not helped them understand the mechanisms or their options, that in practice they have few options, that many find the whole process (particularly with trend towards more geolocation and more use of biometrics and passive surveillance) insulting or creepy? [see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract… & http://www.cylab.cmu.edu/research/techreports/t… & http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?st… & http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?st… & http://jeffjonas.typepad.com/jeff_jonas/2009/08… & http://74.125.95.132/search?q=cache:2FSE6Zl1u_s

    Is it not enough that the ad industry has done as little as possible to create the illusion that there are options for consumers and that privacy actually gets protected? Consumers think they are protected by nice-sounding privacy policies and deleting their HTML cookies now and then. Very few people even know about, let alone know how to manage, the pervasive and persistent Flash (and similar) cookies. [see https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/09/new-cooki… & http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2009/09/online-tra… & http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/08/you-dele… & http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/node/6170

    Enough is enough. Technology, as it almost always does, has outpaced individuals' ability to effectively manage it. Self-regulation has failed. Basic but comprehensive legal privacy protections are desperately needed.

  • mwendy

    Laws are made by individuals. And, as you note, technology has outpace individuals' ability “to effectively manage it.” So, a new law's gonna' change that?

  • Guest
  • http://logicalextremes.com Logical Extremes

    Laws are made by groups. Are you proposing anarchy as a better solution?

  • mikewendy

    You're conflating my lack of acceptance of your ideas / fact-assumptions with anarchy. The evolution of technology, marketplace guidance / marketpalce condemnation, industy best practices, consumer education / transparency and present enforcement tool / laws are ways currently of combatting abuse.

  • mwendy

    Laws are made by individuals. And, as you note, technology has outpace individuals' ability “to effectively manage it.” So, a new law's gonna' change that?

  • http://logicalextremes.com Logical Extremes

    Laws are made by groups. Are you proposing anarchy as a better solution?

  • mikewendy

    You're conflating my lack of acceptance of your ideas / fact-assumptions with anarchy. The evolution of technology, marketplace guidance / marketpalce condemnation, industy best practices, consumer education / transparency and present enforcement tool / laws are ways currently of combatting abuse.

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