Articles by Sonia Arrison

Sonia Arrison is an author and policy analyst who has studied the impact of new technologies on society for more than a decade. A Senior Fellow at the California-based Pacific Research Institute (PRI) and a columnist for TechNewsWorld, she is author of two previous books (Western Visions and Digital Dialog) as well as numerous PRI studies on technology issues. A frequent media contributor and guest, her work has appeared in many publications including CBS MarketWatch, CNN, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. She was also the host of a radio show called "digital dialogue" on the Voice America network and has been a repeat guest on National Public Radio and CNN's Headline News.

My new book, 100 Plus, is about how science and technology will allow us to live longer and healthier – and how that will change the world.  This topic may be newish for this site, but many of the key issues are not.  What happens to economic growth in this tech revolution?  How does innovation play a part in resolving problems such as environmental waste?  Should we be worried about a divide between the haves and the have nots?  I address all these questions and more, including the impact on religious institutions.  The final chapter of the book details how leaders, including many in the traditional technology industry, are pushing ahead with reverse-engineering the human body – the next big thing.

Here is an excerpt of the book in the Wall Street Journal.

For those who wonder about the latest craziness coming from California, here is a summary.  It’s truly shocking that California policy makers are going after Silicon Valley, since it is one of the reasons the economy hasn’t completely tanked.

From my recent TNW column:

Facebook is having a tough month. First, it was revealed that the company hired a PR firm to portray competitor Google in a negative light, and now it is facing an even worse scenario: government regulation.


The Social Networking Privacy Act (SB 242) introduced into the California Senate by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, would force any social networking site to make new users choose their privacy settings when they register and make the default settings private except for the user’s name and city of residence.

This is a huge challenge to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who has argued that making personal data public is the new “social norm.”


Clearly, the battle over what constitutes the appropriate social norm is up for grabs. According to Corbett, “you shouldn’t have to sign in and give up your personal information before you get to the part where you say ‘please don’t share my personal information.'”


This might sound like common sense at first, but someone should remind the senator that signing up for Facebook is voluntary. No one is required to log in or give up their data.


In addition to its stipulations about privacy settings, the bill would force social networking sites to remove any personally identifying information that a user wants to delete and would allow parents to edit their children’s Facebook profiles.


Suddenly the horror that “Mom’s on Facebook” could mean a lot more than potential embarrassment for kids. For those under 18, it might mean deletion of one’s online identity.


Read more here.



In the latest WikiLeaks data dump, around a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables were published online. “Cablegate,” as it is being called, has revealed some rather startling information. Among the tech-relevant secrets, the State Department tasked agents to collect DNA and other biometric information on foreigners of interest.

Specifically, U.S. officials were told that in addition to collecting “email addresses, telephone and fax numbers,” they should also snap up “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and Iris scans.” This directive makes the recent TSA scandal over airport full body scanners seem like child’s play.

Wired joked that this would explain to foreign leaders why the “chief of mission seemed a bit too friendly at the last embassy party.”

Jokes aside, access to DNA information is potentially one of the most important privacy issues of the future.

In a world in which DNA sequencing is becoming exponentially faster and cheaper, it won’t be long before it is possible to sequence everyone’s genomes for medical purposes. Possession of an individual’s DNA blueprint will be useful in fighting disease and in personalizing drugs and other therapies. Of course, as with any technology, DNA sequencing can be used for either good or evil purposes, so it will need to be used wisely.


Read the rest of my column here.

It’s been a tough week for the personal genomics testing marketplace.  First there were two long days of FDA meetings, and then today an Energy and Commerce Committee held hearings where the GAO announced the results of a “sting” operation into direct to consumer (DTC) genomics companies.   Below is the (brutal) GAO video.  As Daniel MacArthur has pointed out, today there exist both legitimate and not-so-legitimate testing firms, but the GAO has lumped them all in together, which will make it easier for pro-regulatory forces to get their hooks into the industry.  I urge you to read MacArthur’s entire analysis here, since he follows the industry closely and is saddened by the fact that:

The momentum seems to be well and truly in favour of the bureaucrats now. The prospect of increased regulation (specifically from the FDA) seemed to be enthusiastically received by the Committee today; there was explicit mention of increased money for the FDA to support such a move. The shape of this regulation is as yet unclear, but I’m now extremely pessimistic about the industry’s prospects of escaping excessive, innovation-crushing regulation in the US.

This is very bad news for those of us who wish to see personal medicine flourish.

This is a hot topic in the Valley at the moment, and for good reason.  Here’s an excerpt from my column on the issue:

Silicon Valley is known for innovative ideas in technology, and now some of the area’s greatest minds have come up with a new way to solve one of their biggest operational problems: securing foreign talent. It’s called the “startup visa” and it’s getting a lot of attention in both California and D.C., because it would help create new jobs.

The idea is to issue a work visa to foreign entrepreneurs who start a company in the U.S., provided that they raise at least US$250,000 from qualified U.S. investors. Then, within two years, the startup must create five new jobs, raise at least $1 million, or generate at least $1 million in revenue. If one of those goals is achieved, the founder gets a green card. If not, the entrepreneur must leave the country. Anyone who knows what it’s like to be an immigrant understands that such a scenario would provide a serious incentive to work hard at making the new company grow.

For years, the tech industry has struggled with caps on H-1B visas, but this new idea has sparked hope for a better reception. Far from “stealing jobs” from Americans, the visas would require the creation of new jobs that stimulate the economy.

Here’s a rather disturbing article published by CNN today.  Apparently, many “states mandate that newborns be tested for anywhere between 28 and 54 different conditions, and the DNA samples are stored in state labs for anywhere from three months to indefinitely, depending on the state.”

I live in California and we did have our baby tested for various genetic conditions before he was born.  It wasn’t mandated by the state, but now I wonder what happened to the samples after they were collected.

Here’s more from the CNN article:

In many states, such as Florida, where Isabel was born, babies’ DNA is stored indefinitely, according to the resource center.  Many parents don’t realize their baby’s DNA is being stored in a government lab, but sometimes when they find out, as the Browns did, they take action. Parents in Texas, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits, and these parents’ concerns are sparking a new debate about whether it’s appropriate for a baby’s genetic blueprint to be in the government’s possession.

Spike TV’s John Papola and GMU economics professor Russell Roberts teamed up to create an exceptional and entertaining “rap video” pitting John Maynard Keynes against F. A. Hayek.  If you ever wondered what would happen if the two famous economists went out drinking together, here’s one answer.  Now this is a great use of social media.

Yesterday marked the beginning of the third annual US-China Internet Industry Forum (held this year in SF).  The purpose of the gathering is to increase mutual understanding of key business and policy issues in China and the US.  It is an invite-only event, so I was excited to be there with top government and technology leaders such as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales,’s Charles Cao, Harvard law prof John Palfrey (author of Born Digital – loved that book), Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie, Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian, Baidu’s COO Ye Peng, The FBI’s Jeffrey Troy, China’s Deputy Director of the Internet, Liu Zhengrong, and a bunch of others (eBay, Yahoo, Intel, Facebook, etc).  The main topics of discussion were intellectual property, online child protection, and cybercrime.

What struck me most about the discussions was the degree of concern the Chinese attendees showed for intellectual property.  Now that China is moving towards a knowledge-based economy, they are realizing that it is in their best interests to do a better job of protecting IP.  Most Americans probably don’t realize it, but there is a vibrant start-up community in China and it won’t be long before we start to see more innovation coming from that country.

The event was co-hosted by Microsoft and the Internet Society of China and co-sponsored by Google, eBay, Intel,, Verisign, Akamai, Yahoo,,,,,, and

I was stunned last week when I saw many prominent tech VCs and CEOs from Silicon Valley sign letters endorsing the FCC’s move towards Net Neutrality, since, if the rule making goes ahead, it will mean regulating the Internet.  I happen to know a bunch of these folks, so I decided to call them to see if they really were endorsing regulations for the Net or if something else was going on.  Something else was going on.  Because the term “Net neutrality” is notoriously difficult to define, and is often put in terms of “free and open,” some people signed the letters without realizing it could lead to new regulations for the Information superhighway (these are busy people who spend more time running their companies than following the ins and outs of the FCC).   That said, unsurprisingly, there was a lot of suspicion regarding the phone and cable companies.  After many conversations, here is a potential solution that could put an end to Net neutrality games and ensure a bright future for the Net.

The upshot for those of you who don’t want to follow the link:

“If the tech industry and the major ISPs want to avoid government regulation and keep the Internet thriving, they need to come up with a way to solve the disclosure problem on their own in the marketplace.

Verizon has already started taking steps toward a more constructive stance by co-signing a letter with Google supporting an open Internet. Now it is time for all companies involved to take it to the next level. If that happens, U.S. innovators will be much safer from the claims of militant rent-seeking activists and regulators who want to get their hands on the Net.

The creation of TRUSTe helped the tech industry mobilize and avoid heavy-handed privacy regulations like those that befell Europe. Now it is time for ISPs to support an independent, private body to monitor neutrality issues. Such a move would deflate the pro-regulation lobby and allay the concerns of the industry that is driving U.S. growth.”

To add to everything else that’s been said on TLF about Net neutrality, here is an article I wrote discussing the problems in Chairman Genachowski’s speech of last week.  Many NN activists bizarrely think that history proves their argument right, but that is false.  The reality is that history shows that when government attempts to regulate in an effort to “create competition,” the opposite often results.

Given this, it was sad to see former Chairman Martin recently endorsing Net neutrality regs (except for wireless).  He should know better.