Senate Privacy Hearing

Check my post on Internet Evolution about the Senate’s hearing on Internet privacy and the control of personal information.

For the US federal government, privacy rights on the Internet — or more precisely, control of personal information — is a thorny issue.

Like many aspects of tech policy, Washington looks at this issue through the prism of standing law, inherited from a time when the ability and motivation to harvest, store, examine, and sell this kind of information was very different. Current laws about privacy were driven by concerns raised by telephone and direct-mail solicitors, where opt-outs and “do not call lists” were big political winners.

And like many current controversies around the Internet, the issue of personal information control pits companies with different business models against each other. Most firms making money off of Internet advertising (which includes virtually all of the free Internet) want to be able to use personal information the better to monetize eyeballs; those who don’t rely on advertising have a continuum of interests depending on what they sell. The firms that sell subscription services can afford to be privacy hawks, but those that depend on repeat sales of small-ticket items, as Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) does, are dying for as much information about potential buyers as they can get.

I testified at a hearing in the House a little over a year ago on this issue, where I raised the issue of social sharing. Kids share information on Facebook and other sites, and then wish they hadn’t. But it’s not impossible to get it taken down, at least from the primary site, so it’s all good except for the copies. Dealing with the proliferation problem is a lot harder, but we’ll get to it eventually.