Adam is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He previously served as President of the Progress & Freedom Foundation, Director of Telecom. Studies at the Cato Institute, and Fellow in Economic Policy at the Heritage Foundation.
The new Harvard Journal article is divided into three major sections. Part I focuses on some of normative challenges we face when discussing privacy and argues that there may never be a widely accepted, coherent legal standard for privacy rights or harms here in the United States. It also explores the tensions between expanded privacy regulation and online free speech. Part II turns to the many enforcement challenges that are often ignored when privacy policies are being proposed or formulated and argues that legislative and regulatory efforts aimed at protecting privacy must now be seen as an increasingly intractable information control problem. Most of the problems policymakers and average individuals face when it comes to controlling the flow of private information online are similar to the challenges they face when trying to control the free flow of digitalized bits in other information policy contexts, such as online safety, cybersecurity, and digital copyright.
If the effectiveness of law and regulation is limited by the normative considerations discussed in Part I and the practical enforcement complications discussed in Part II, what alternatives remain to assist privacy-sensitive individuals? I address that question in Part III of the paper and argue that the approach America has adopted to deal with concerns about objectionable online speech and child safety offers a path forward on the privacy front as well. Continue reading →
I hope that you’ve all been watching the terrific videos on “Economics of the Media” that Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok have put together as part of their Marginal Revolution University online courses. They divide their media economics lessons into four groupings: (1) Basic economics of media; (2) Media bias; (3) Media and government; and (4) Media and economic development. Tyler and Alex asked Jerry Brito and me to contribute two videos on Net neutrality for the project. Jerry’s course offers an overview of Net neutrality as a general engineering principle. My video explores Net neutrality as a regulatory proposal and couches it in a broader discussion of network economics. Each video lasts approximately 6-7 minutes. Here they are:
Let’s talk about “permissionless innovation.” We all believe in it, right? Or do we? What does it really mean? How far are we willing to take it? What are its consequences? What is its opposite? How should we balance them?
What got me thinking about these questions was a recent essay over at The Umlaut by my Mercatus Center colleague Eli Dourado entitled, “‘Permissionless Innovation’ Offline as Well as On.” He opened by describing the notion of permissionless innovation as follows:
In Internet policy circles, one is frequently lectured about the wonders of “permissionless innovation,” that the Internet is a global platform on which college dropouts can try new, unorthodox methods without the need to secure authorization from anyone, and that this freedom to experiment has resulted in the flourishing of innovative online services that we have observed over the last decade.
Eli goes on to ask, “why it is that permissionless innovation should be restricted to the Internet. Can’t we have this kind of dynamism in the real world as well?”
That’s a great question, but let’s ponder an even more fundamental one: Does anyone really believe in the ideal of “permissionless innovation”? Is there anyone out there who makes a consistent case for permissionless innovation across the technological landscape, or is it the case that a fair degree of selective morality is at work here? That is, people love the idea of “permissionless innovation” until they find reasons to hate it — namely, when it somehow conflicts with certain values they hold dear. Continue reading →
I’m excited to announce that the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology has just published the final version of my 78-page paper on, “Technopanics, Threat Inflation, and the Danger of an Information Technology Precautionary Principle.” My thanks to the excellent team at the Journal, who made the final product a much better paper than the one I turned into them! I poured my heart and soul into this article and hope others find it useful. It’s the culmination of all my work on technopanics and threat inflation in information policy debates, much of which I originally developed here in various essays through the years. In coming weeks, I hope to elaborate on themes I develop in the paper in a couple of posts here.
service] to be no more than 100 words, be written in clear and concise language, be written at no greater than an 8th grade reading level, and to include a statement indicating whether the personally identifiable information may be sold or shared with others, and if so, how and with whom the information may be shared.”
I finally got around to reading this interesting little paper by Justus Haucap and Ulrich Heimeshoff published by the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics entitled, “Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay: Is the Internet Driving Competition or Market Monopolization?” It offers a nice snapshot of the current state of play in several online sectors and surveys much of the relevant economic literature on the issue of antitrust and information technology markets. The authors also familiarize readers with the basic economic concepts that are hotly debated in the field of digital economics, including: network effects, switching costs, multi-homing, and economies of scale.
What I particularly like about their paper is that it struggles with the two competing narratives that dominate debates over digital age economics. Here’s how Haucap and Heimeshoff put it in the introduction:
On the one hand, it is rather obvious that many very successful Internet-based companies are nearly monopolists. Google, Youtube, Facebook, and Skype are typical examples for Internet firms who dominate their relevant markets and who leave only limited space for a relatively small competitive fringe. Furthermore, most of these providers do not generate content themselves, but “only” provide access to different content on the Internet. On the other hand, the crucial question from a competition policy perspective is not so much whether these firms have such a dominant position today, but rather why they have such a large market share and whether this is a temporary or non-temporary phenomenon. Do these Internet monopolies enjoy a dominant position because they are protected from competition though barriers to entry or do they just enjoy the profits of superior technology and innovation? Are we observing some sort of Schumpeterian competition where one temporary monopoly is followed by another, with innovation as the driving competitive force, or are we dealing with monopoly firms that mainly try to foreclose their markets through anticompetitive behavior?
Faithful readers know from my past rantings here on this blog, in Forbes columns, and in various working papers, that I am firmly in the latter (“Schumpeterian competition”) camp. Continue reading →
2013 is shaping up to be another big year for Internet and information technology policy books. Here’s a list of what’s coming out or already on the market. As faithful readers know, I put together end-of-year lists of important info-tech policy books, and here are the lists for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and the most recent one for 2012. And here’s my compendium of all the major tech policy books from the 2000s. So I’ll do my best to get through all these books and whatever else follows throughout the year. Consider this my public service to the Internet policy community: I read nerdy Internet policy books so that you don’t have to!
Let me know what else I may have missed and I will add it to the list.
In an important essay this week entitled “Silicon Valley’s ‘Suicide Impulse’,” Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz warns that “Silicon Valley has long prided itself on avoiding the lumbering relationship between big government and most industries, but somehow it has become one of the top lobbyists in Washington.” Crovitz is worried that Internet and technology companies are falling prey to what Milton Friedman labeled “The Business Community’s Suicidal Impulse”: the persistent propensity to persecute one’s competitors using regulation or the threat thereof. “Rather than lobby government to go after one another,” Crovitz argues, “Silicon Valley lobbyists should unite to go after overreaching government. Instead of the ‘suicide impulse’ of lobbying for more regulation, Silicon Valley should seek deregulation and a long-overdue freedom to return to its entrepreneurial roots.”
Crovitz’s essay touches upon a dangerous trend I have written about here and elsewhere in the past: the increasing politicization of the Internet and information technology sectors and the gradual rise of rent-seeking (i.e., favor-seeking) over time. I’ve written about this problem in essays like:
A couple of folks have asked me why I’ve gone silent over the past few months and posted so little here on the TLF. Simply put, I over-committed myself to one law review after another. I had submitted a few working papers to law reviews late last year and then was simultaneously approached by a few others who were soliciting specific pieces. And I said ‘yes’ to everybody! That’s meant zero time for casual blogging of any sort. I hope to get back on the beat soon, but I still am putting the wraps on two of these, so it may be awhile before I get back to blogging regularly. Anyway, to the extent anyone is interested in what I am working on, here are my next seven law review articles, plus a book chapter:
“Benefit-Cost Analysis in Online Safety & Digital Privacy Debates,” [forthcoming, George Mason University Law Review]
“A History of Cronyism & Capture in the Information Technology Sector,” with Brent Skorup, [forthcoming Mercatus Working Paper, February 2013. Looking for a home for this one, possibly in a poly sci or history journal instead of a law review.]
“Internet Policy Paradigms: The First Half Century of Internet Governance Visions” [Looking for a home for this one, too, but still far from done with it.]
[Book chapter] “A Framework for Responding to Online Safety Risks,” [forthcoming book chapter in: Youth And The Internet – Regulating Online Opportunities And Risks (Springer Press, 2013)]
Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s say you believe the Internet economy needs more regulation to guard against potential privacy violations or what you regard as excessive data aggregation. Further, you believe that no amount of self-regulation, social norms, market pressure, education, empowerment, or anything else could possibly substitute for regulation. I know there are a lot of people out there today who feel this way. Regardless of the merits of such claims, here’s my question for you: Do the ends (enhanced privacy protections) justify any means (regulation at any and every level of government)? For example, what would you think about having all 50 states creating their own Privacy Offices or Data Protection Bureaus that issued regulations or recommendations about Internet best practices?
EFF applauds this important step forward, and congratulates the California Attorney General on a thorough and clearly written explanation of the importance of mobile privacy and how developers can deliver. It’s true that as technology changes, the specific needs and guidelines for companies will need to adapt. We could well see a time when these principles do not adequately protect the rights and needs of consumers. However, right now these principles represent a huge step forward — going beyond existing law in a way that improves transparency, accountability, and choice for users of mobile devices.
Regardless of the merits of the principles and recommendations contained in that report — and I agree that many of them are quite sensible best practices that industry should be following — I can’t help but wonder whether it is wise for EFF to be cheering on state-based Internet meddling so openly. Continue reading →