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.

Previous post:

Next post: