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The Almighty Buck

Why Not A Free Market In Privacy? 164

Posted by timothy
from the ayn-tend-to-agree dept.
leviramsey writes: "Julian Sanchez has written an article analyzing the privacy debate and suggesting a free market solution to the privacy issue on Liberzine.com. Very interesting idea that seems to make sense to me." While this essay doesn't lay out how this market might work in practice, it raises the interesting and often scoffed-at idea that sometimes we like to trade some of our privacy for various things, online and off, as a visit to Yahoo personals will prove.
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Why Not A Free Market In Privacy?

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  • They all assume perfect market conditions

    Nonsense. Sure, economic reasoning presumes rational action on the part of people. It's the only way to predict how people will behave. Even if people are only rational half the time, at least you can predict half their behavior. If you presume that people will be irrational (as you seem to expect), then you can't make ANY predictions. That would be of no value.

    You make a really weird argument. You say that a free market would work fine until government interferes with it. And you use that to object to any attempt to establish a more libertarian society. Well, I hate to tell you, but ANYTHING that works will stop working if you interfere with its proper operation. That's no argument against trying to make something work.
    -russ
  • No sane person will make "his own decisions" when confronted on any important issue

    You have an odd idea of what constitutes sanity. Perhaps you are insane yourself?
    -russ
  • Your example does not apply to one of a free market. You are elitist and dismissive of the people whom you wish to protect. Perhaps you should pay attention to their choices?

    1. I am not at all dismissive of myself! 2. I based that on observed behaviour, I just calls it as I sees it!

    3. You will note that I indicated that even with the highest level of education generally recognized, the consumer is still at a disadvantage. Note also that I am not in that highest educated group.

    4. Note also that if every consumer reached that level of education, the economy and job markets would be in real trouble. It's hard to get a PhD to dig ditches, wait tables, collect trash, etc. for a living.

    5. I have spent a good bit of time as 'Joe Sixpack' except that my name's not Joe.

  • Simple. Collective action can be undermined by a sufficiently large minority of people who do not think about their long-term benefit. If the people vote as government, the majority can make law which applies to everyone and keep the minority from lubricating the slippery slope.

    In theory, that is. In practice government has its own pitfalls, but this is not to deny that it also has its legitimate and beneficial uses.
    --
    Knowledge is power
    Power corrupts
    Study hard

  • This thread is kinda offtopic, but I gotta comment anyway...

    Mainly, we are talking about the difference between a necessity and a non-necessity. The large corporations can exist without buying and selling huge databases with "our" information...they can get it from the phone book if they really want it, it is public domain already. However, they cannot exist without electricity to run their business. In theory, the system works as long as their is not already a shortage with the item in demand, such as electricity or consumber databases for instance. Here in PA, deregulation is working great, but we have so much power that if company X goes outta business, company Y can pick up the slack without too much trouble. This was CA oversite...they were already overloading their grid.
  • If we make a law that assures that is the only way such an exchange would take place, then we're not talking about a free market anymore. In fact, your arguing for my point.
    Well I'm not really arguing that we SHOULD require it, but I do assert that it is better than the alternative that you proffer, that we FORCE everyone to maintain their privacy. What's more, those legally ENFORCED conditions still have the same fundamental characteristic, insofar they still allow the person the freedom to exchange their information, albiet in a different method. We routinely structure our financial and securities industries in similar fashion, and it works well. It may not be the Libertarian perception of a "free" market, but, at its heart, it's the same. Why can't we do the same with privacy?

    Sometimes, by luck, the local and global minimum coincide. In the case of strikes, the contract is social and does carry substantial penelties for violation (ranging from ostrisization and loss of benefits (in recent times) to being beaten to a pulp (earlier in the history of unions).
    Umm, I'd argue that they really don't coincide. If we take the shops, for example, there is no law saying that their customers can't use the parks. In all likelyhood, their customers won't even know that they're part of the group. So what's the draw back from sitting on the sidelines, saving a little money, and still enjoying the same benefits? I don't see this as being a
    meeting of local and global minimums.

    Anyways, I'd argue that your argument that the local and global minimums meet in any of my examples, are because of tertiary factors that often take care of those problems without the need for any sort of leap of faith. i.e., your friends, family, coworkers, community, business, or what have you, make your reconsider what might otherwise be a myopic and self-centered approach. In fact, I'd argue that these kinds of situations are more real world oriented than the laboratory or psuedo-socialist inspired ideas of the counterexamples, not to mention more common than you think. Did you ever consider that they're all around you, just that you don't notice them because you take them for granted?

    Cleaning up parks has little to do with the discussion since it has none of the elements of the prisoner's dilemma or the tragedy of the commons. Cleaning up the park can happen even if 90% DON'T buy in.
    Whether it can or not is debatable, but it DOESN'T happen that way. Participation is the norm with many of these successful projects.

    Actually, I would argue that many of those people have no knowledge of making any choice regarding privacy. Most companies are very secretive about how they share personal information and with whom. Some deny any such sharing in the face of evidence to the contrary. I use variations on my name when I subscribe to magazines. Shortly after, I start getting junk mail addressed to that particular variant of my name when I never did before. Nowhere in the subscription card did they mention selling my name and address on a mailing list. The card listed the terms of the subscription. I pay $X and I get Y issues of the magazine. There was nothing about I pay $X and allow them to sell my name and address and I get Y issues. I have yet to see a magazine subscription card that makes any statement at all about privacy.
    Many people might do so without their explicit approval, however that doesn't mean that most people still don't often sacrifice privacy for the right incentive. In fact, there have been a large number of studies, both in society and in the lab, where the majority of people explicitely agree to the incentive in exchange for loss of privacy. Anyways, the initial argument was never that the consumer should be put in the dark, it's that two parties (including the customer) know what the conditions of the agreement are, live by it, and both profit from it. We should certainly enforce violations of it, but those violations are largely extraneous to the argument. Furthermore, your dilema example is entirely different; if the individual does not know, it's simply not up to the individual to seek any minimum in this context.

    I do not ignore that choices happen independant of the community as a whole. In fact, that's my point! That's THE problem.
    But I think you do. On one hand you'll imply that the credit card situation is a problem of global minumums, while on the other hand claiming that the consumer is ignorant. If the consumer is ignorant, then it's not the "Dilema", that's a problem of ignorance. Frankly, I think it's both. Consumers sometimes do some things out of ignorance--what the industry does not tell them (and there, I argue we should regulate out). But othertimes they very definitely agree, both explicitely or implicitely, to the conditions. When they agree, it simply is not a minimum at all.

    Now I know you argue that they have no "choice", but I simply disagree with that. The industry did not roll out some cannon and say "you all will accept this". They can't do that any more than they can impose an abitrary price, unless they are a monopoly, in which case they're already in the justice departments sites. The only way it can possibly reach the kind of critical mass that you describe is if the majority of people either do things out of ignorance (less common then you think) or if they willingly agree to give up their privacy--which, I would argue, is a global minimum.

    What's more, to the extent that there are competitive markets, if there is a truely substantial demand (which I really don't believe there is) for privacy, there will be a market for that. Companies will try to meet those demands if it is economical and ultimately desirable to those same customers [i.e., if they're really willing to pay what privacy costs].

    I know plenty of people who value their privacy. There are plenty on /. Every few weeks, the news talks about corperate violations of privacy, so there must be some interest (even if the news is lowest common denominator TV at it's 'finest'). I don't see a lot of businesses making offerings catering to those who want their privacy respected. The closest I've seen is that mail order medical supplies commercial where they offer to ship in an unmarked box (but make no promises about sharing your info with other companies). How many do you see?
    Interest != Demand. People are also interested in charity, but by and large, most people would rather have a new car. The same goes for privacy in my opinion. They may like the idea of privacy in theory, but when it comes time to actually shop, and they have a choice between something that costs 5% less or privacy (especially when it's something as inane as Cola preferences), they generally decide the former.

    I know plenty of people who value their privacy. There are plenty on /. Every few weeks, the news talks about corperate violations of privacy, so there must be some interest (even if the news is lowest common denominator TV at it's 'finest'). I don't see a lot of businesses making offerings catering to those who want their privacy respected. The closest I've seen is that mail order medical supplies commercial where they offer to ship in an unmarked box (but make no promises about sharing your info with other companies). How many do you see?
    Again, this is pretty much the same argument. Most people aren't willing to pay what it costs. Slashdot and your probably liberally oriented friends are hardly representive of the population as a whole, but even there, I'd argue that they take the discount route. Anyways, there are a large number of websites and such that "gaurantee" your privacy, especially where people might care, like on a porn site.

  • Anarch-capitalism is a contradiction in terms. Capitalism exists because of hierarchy. Anarchy requires the elimination of hierarchy. Anyone claiming to be an anarcho-capitalist is pulling a fast one and should NEVER be trusted.

    And, returning from off-topicness: yes, I agree.
  • half-assed deregulatory system like this,

    At least we agree on that. Perhaps we could call it "misregulation" instead of "deregulation"?
    -russ
  • What other fundamental rights can we marketize? Maybe we can pay off the government's debt by marketizing speech - put a tax or a fee on every letter of the alphabet that we use. Or a market in freedom itself - some people might start off as slaves, but they would have an incentive to invest and become free, and the market would solve the problems.
    What is my job but a trading of some of my freedom for money? But it is not slavery, because I can walk away at any time.

    A "fundamental right" is not protected at all if one cannot choose when, how, and if to exercise it, or even whether to waive it. If someone wants to waive it for money, what business is that of yours or mine?

    Oh and by the way, a government-imposed tax speech would be the very antithesis of the market. Methinks I spy a strawman.

  • The poor are protected by their insignificance.

    We all deserve to be protected from prying. Email should have the same protections as US mail. A free market can not exist without trust.

  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Tuesday February 06, 2001 @04:07AM (#453754)
    > The reason the power plants in California are in trouble is not because of anything EXCEPT too much government regulations.

    I can't believe people are still posting that kind of claim. Every time the topic comes up, the following facts have to be pointed out:
    • It was the utilities that pushed the legislation in the first place. They didn't complain a whit then about "partial deregulation". Instead, they arranged their investors a $28,500,000,000 bail-out at taxpayer expense, and billed it as a 10% rate cut.
    • When Californians figured out how badly they had been screwed, they put up Proposition 9 to void part of the deal. The utilities put up $30,000,000 to fight P9.
    • Since the legislation took effect, PG&E has reorganized itself into a parent company and two siblings. Now the left hand is making record profits by selling power to the right hand at scalper's prices, and the right hand is demanding another bailout due to all the money it's "losing".
    This is a Royal Scam of the finest water. Don't let your "all regulation is bad" ideology blind you to that fact.

    --
  • While this essay doesn't lay out how this market might work in practice...

    One of the principle features of the free market is that the results will be wholly unpredictable. If you could anticipate how such a system would work, then it's actually an argument against the free market system. Dispose of the millions of different experiements you see in the free market and central plan it.

    Of course the idea is that no _one_ person can discover the best solution to these (and lots of other) problems. But the free market will discover one or several that will stick.

    One solution that only occured to me after reading slashdot today has been in use for years: The use of discount cards that people have to sign up for. Many people (including myself) are willing to offer information on their purchase habits for 5-10% off..

    -Snoot

  • Did you know that studies have been done which demonstrate fairly conclusively that the relative performance of CEOs can be explained by chance alone ?

    That's debatable. If you had a family and you saw businesses willing to pay $400,000 for a logo your kid could create and a webpage that took you 5 minutes to make, wouldn't you go for it? I would.

    I think playing the market is acceptable from that perspective. Even futures traders have to make an informed decision. Like why milk might go up at a certain time or certain fruits that don't grow during a particular season. Done right, futures trading could be a good teaching device.

    Daytrading is the big one for me. On the one hand it could be a way to get significant investnent (just pick a really cheesy name for your company, people will fall for it). On the other hand, once your compasny begins growing you've got to pull some of those stocks back otherwise complete idiots high on high school economics will sue you (they own your stock) for not patenting bread and cheese.

    This is why I think public ownership of stocks is similar to public property collectivists like to preach about. Bose, known for its high quality audio products is a private company. I truly envy Dr. Amman Bose because he can lead his life as he pleases.
  • However, some of us present stayed on for the advanced class, where they took back all of the simplistic, one-size-fits-all conclusions beloved of you "market" types. Allow me to explain, in irritating alternating bold and plain typefaces:

    Why did California have price controls in the first place?

    Because the electricity utilities were monopolists -- if prices hadn't been regulated, the suppliers would have acted like classic monopolists and reduced supply to jack up prices.

    Why the hell did they allow monopoly suppliers of electricity? They must have been smoking crack!

    No, it would have been crack-smoking to do it any other way. Electricity supply is a natural monopoly, because it's ludicrously inefficient to have two or three sets of competing power cables running everywhere. Quite apart from the obvious duplication of effort, city streets as they are currently designed could not bear this level of cabling.

    So what's the real source of the problem?

    Well, at privatisation, the existing, regulated utilities split themselves into a price-controlled supply company and a deregulated generation company. The generation company was meant to charge what the market would bear, while the supply company would supply to consumers, with a price ceiling.

    What the hell was the idea of that?

    Well, it was believed that, when freed of the dead hand of government, the supply company would make huge improvements in productivity. Everyone envisaged that these productivity improvements would be enough to allow them to reduce the cost to consumers, while competition among generators would keep prices down.

    What actually happened?

    The productivity improvements never happened. The supply companies were actually less efficient than the integrated utilities had been. They were never able to pay enough for electricity to make it worth the while for the power companies to invest in more capacity.

    Wasn't it incredibly naive to expect that the simple act of deregulation would magically make everything more efficient?

    Hey don't ask me, ask a libertarian.

    So what happened then?

    Power demand went through the roof, and there was no spare capacity. Oil prices rose, which didn't exactly help.

    So, in a classic example of the market working to all our benefit, the power companies realised they had nothing to gain from driving their customers (the supply companies) out of business, and increased capacity, tiding over the supply companies?

    None such luck. The generating companies correctly guessed that in a half-assed deregulatory system like this, losses are socialised while profits are privatised, and that it was time to make out like gang busters.

    So whose fault was it?

    Everybody's. The price regime was silly, because it didn't allow for incentives to increase generation capcity. But it would have been far sillier to deregulate prices to customers -- this would have simply shifted the excess profits from the generators to the suppliers, and entrenched the same problem forever.

    The real lesson is that, despite what everyone tells us about that nasty, evil, incompetent government, it managed to keep the freaking lights on in California. A subsidiary lesson is that Californians use approximately five times as much electricity as would be reasonable. And finally, that we should always be suspicious of people pushing miracle solutions to economic problems which, as a first step, involve large resource transfers to themselves.

    thanks

  • The article is bullshit for the following reason, posed in the form of two questions:

    1. How on earth can you have a market in a commodity, unless you have specified all of the ownership rights pertaining to that commodity?

    2. Once you have specified all of the ownership rights relating to personal information, precisely what problem is there which remains to be solved?

    The "market in privacy" is a non-solution to a non-problem. It requires as one of its preconditions, a solution to the only political problem of interest. But it's got the magic word "market" in it, which apparently makes a lot of otherwise intelligent people suspend all their critical faculties, for fear of being mistaken for a socialist.

  • Maybe it's the fault of my high school econ teacher who convinced us that the market was the most efficient solution to many problems, but I really like this idea.

    The biggest reason this makes sense to me is that when I'm online, I have no expectation of privacy. I expect that unless I make efforts with encryption, etc. that my communication online isn't private. There are certain orgainizations that I trust more than others online, but when it comes down to it, I have no idea who's looking at my data once it hits the network.

    Since I already feel like anyone who wants my personal information can buy it, I'd like them to buy it from me at my price.

  • Of course, he violated the contract and therefore you could probably win a civil suit to cover the costs of the resulting divorce.
  • Now if we get all the naked... erm... careless people off the net we might have a chance.
  • by Alex Belits (437) on Monday February 05, 2001 @07:11PM (#453762) Homepage

    "Let's declare that something can be traded on a free market, and everything will automagically adjust itself".

    Things don't work this way -- if a decision how to value something is left for everyone in each case, ones with more negotiating power, force their decisions on everybody else. In this case corporations who will create their (low) privacy standards will easily leave consumers with no choice, and consumers would have to resort to inefficient and extremely hard to organize boycotts to get anything back.

    I have seen people who honestly believed in Communist utopia, and they made more sense than people who honestly believe in this Libertarian utopia.

  • People will just hand out their privacy given any percieved benefit, no matter how small. That's how all the quote-on-quote "spyware" companies survive - people either do not know about the side effects, or care.

    Has anyone here actually looked at a web site privacy policy? They're pretty scary at times. "Basic usage information" can mean an awful lot - in fact, whatever someone can dream of.

  • This is a good article, but the writer misses a next logical step. Counterfit information. If we as members of the market counterfit information (make crap up) then we are polluting the informatio market. Once the information collectors have no easy way to determine if the information is valid or invalid the collected information can not be used for analysis. We must all do our part to destroy these databases which belive they are entitled to our information. GO to nytimes [nytimes.com] and register with fake information. Delete your cookies and repeat.
  • The article argues against giving all the rights to privacy to the user; but then, in order to give the user something to trade away, they first must have privacy rights.

    Also, to find an hot analogy, what kind of free market does the author think would give a fair deal to slaves ? This is not really just a troll, at some times and in some places people who had debts would actually do that for a limited time. And today we sign working contracts - but we have the right not to work and to choose the employer.

  • by opus (543) on Tuesday February 06, 2001 @04:38AM (#453766)
    The author is overlooking the primary problem with a "free market" in personal information: information is replicable.

    I may well choose, for rational reasons, to sell my name, address, etc. to one party. But due to the nature of information, that party is capable in turn sell it to a third party (and a fourth, and a fifth), without my consent. And if this is the case, I cannot know what I'm selling, short of negotiating a contract. Have I given my address to one party, or many?

    This is the problem that Lessig's proposed strong property right in personal information is intended to solve. (In the same way that a strong property right with regard to copying literature, music, and computer code, is intended to solve the problem of the underproduction of creative works. Whether this solution is worth its price is a separate question.)

    If I have a strong property right in my personal information, the transaction costs of selling my personal information are lowered: I know that, unless I have *explicitly* permitted someone to do so, they may not transfer my personal information to a third party.
    --
  • I do not believe the constitution guarantees a right to privacy. Some people will definitely argue that it is a derived right.

    When you say marketize, you are somehow redefining it. How would "marketizing speech" be putting a tax (definitely not a free market behavior) on speech.

    I see some serious problems with what you are trying to say. Could you restate it better so that I can understand what you are saying?
  • Rationality is of course the crux of libertarian beliefs.

    Rational behavior is what seperates you from an animal. You may decide not to think about certain things all the time, but because you are rational, you probably only do it for low impact decisions.

    If somone cannot act in a rational manner for important things (e.g. Ronald Regan), then they must be cared for by others. It really is not that radical of a belief.
  • If you are irrational, then your comments are meaningless...you haven't thought about them.

    If everyone is irrational, then how can we possibly decide what laws to enact?

    Someone must be rational and capable of deciding things. I say everyone human is rational (with a few exceptions for insanity, alzheimers, etc.) and if we all don't accept this then we don't need society. Because clearly irrational people making laws to govern other irrational people is stupid and dangerous.

    Your argument undermines your argument.
  • Yeah, it's a real barrier to commerce, having to ask explicit questions like "Can I buy your car for $1000? Can I buy your car for $2000?" It's much easier to just hot-wire the car you want and drive away, leaving a $500 bill in the parking space.
    --
  • see, i trade my privacy for all the free stuff on hotdeals forums :)
  • Is it just me, or was that last comment just a little too clever for its own good? All because I am irrational doesn't mean that I am incapable of some rational thought.

    Consider the discussion we're having. One of us is being irrational (you, in this case). ;) But that doesn't mean that you're incapable of rational thought, just that you're judgement in this case is clouded by how you want the world to work rather than how it really does work. Likewise for the poor, their judgement will be clouded by unfounded hope, as sold to them by unscrupulous vendors (as indeed, it is today).

    Perhaps I should not have been so absolutist myself. I hate to sound Ayn Rand-ian here, but what do we mean by "rational" here, anyway? I maintain that everybody acts irrationally at times. I also maintain that for groups of people (heck, for certain individuals as well), that this is not a random, unpredictable behaviour. This predictability is what allows us to make laws for the betterment of all, not some supposed rationality that does not exist. We can be irrational, perhaps even most of the time, and still create useful laws if we accept that.

    I wonder if the counterpoint to this post will get moderated up as well? :P

  • by King Babar (19862) on Tuesday February 06, 2001 @05:56AM (#453773) Homepage
    Yeah, yeah. Now, ask yourself -- why did they want to deregulate in the first place? What was the incentive for deregulation?

    Well, because some people thought that the market would become more effecient, and power would become cheaper.

    We lived in California for just over 7 years, and during the period when they finally got the utility de-regulation plan enacted. And, I swear, I could never figure out why in the world most people wanted to do this. The utility situation in California (and you could include water in this as well) is a truly classic example of where markets will have a rougher time, because virtually every major change or transaction involves an external party who would not be taking part in the transaction if it were a conventional market.

    The building and siting of power plants, for example, is a problem that comes up almost everywhere, but the costs to other parties of putting them wherever the grid thinks them most efficient are vastly greater in California than in most places. California generates a huge amount of it gross state product from the fact that it *is* California, the idyllic (-looking) paradise. In California, a huge determinant of the value of any piece of land is, to be quite frank, the view, and the clarity of the air and water, which are both kinds of "rights" that are extremely hard to deal with if the holders aren't a party to the transaction.

    Now, what actually happened was the way people became party to these kinds of transactions was through the political system. Most specifically, the PUC and their right to regulate the placement and operation of power plants and the prices that could be charged. In return for this power, utilities were essentially granted a guaranteed rate of return (like most other places), which is a boring but perfectly profitable way to do business. Yes, there is no doubt that there were inefficiencies in that system, but, because it was political, all the affected parties were involved, and everybody could play. This was the reason why I find it hard to consider the PUC to be truly a central planning agency: everybody could and did put tremendous amounts of pressure on the PUC to have things their way, but always got compromise solutions. The problem, of course, was that some users believed that they could get better prices through a different system, and that it was worth the huge monetary cost of pushing hard on the political system in the usual fashion. This would have been okay, except that the compromise solution that was reached had some spectacular bugs in it that weren't fully appreciated at the time, but which could be (and have been) exploited to the hilt by power suppliers, who were (by law) completely separated from the utility companies themselves.

    So, when I see what happened, I don't think of it as a market failure or a central planning failure, but as a political failure of the type that so very often crops up in California. Why California more than most other places? I think it is because the stakes are so much higher there than other places, and because there are incredibly strong regional political differences that make the place basically ungovernable. I cannot possibly imagine something like this happening in, say, Iowa. Or in a California that consisted of two or even three independent states.

  • by Alien54 (180860) on Monday February 05, 2001 @06:29PM (#453774) Journal
    I do not see that the big companies would go for this. After all, all of this source data has basically been collected for free, or been traded for something where they can pass of the cost to someone else (free dial ups, etc)

    Now they would have to pay for it.

    Maybe they would accept it, if it were forced on them, but otherwise there are alot of interests pushing for continuing the free ride.

  • If I want to rent an apartment, the landlord will probably want to run a credit check on me, to reduce the odds that I'll stiff them on the rent. Because of this, anyone who claims to be a landlord (or some other legitimate business) can look up my credit report and get all sorts of personal information about me -- and if they misuse the information, it may take a long time for me to find out.

    A more secure way of providing the same social benefit would be:

    • The credit-reporting agency keeps my photograph on file.
    • When I want to go apartment-hunting, the agency sends me a ticket with my photograph, a pseudonym, and an account number generated only for this transaction. "We certify that the person pictured here, who calls himself 'V. L. G. Potemkin', is credit-worthy enough to pay $1000/month for an apartment. To confirm this authorization, call 1-888-EXPERIAN and ask about account number 31337."
    • When I get approved for a lease, I sign it "V. L. G. Potemkin", and the landlord tells the reporting agency how much I am paying.
    • If I miss payments, if my lease expires, etc., then the landlord can call the agency and report the news, using that account number.
    • Unless the landlord (or the cops) can convince a court that they have a need to know, all the other information in my credit record -- other pseudonyms, other addresses, credit cards, my Social Security number, etc. -- remains secret.

    --
  • There is one obvious disadvantage to this idea. The poor will give up their privacy for money or services, and the rich will not. This would inevitably mean that we have a divided society, with the rich having privacy and the poor having none, almost the opposite of what we have now.

    I can see that this idea will be very appealling to libertarians and Republicans, but I think that it is only so on a Prima Facie level. Only the rich will gain freedom and privacy from this idea. The rest, the poor, will be forced by necessity to sacrifice.

    They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

  • by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Monday February 05, 2001 @07:12PM (#453777) Homepage
    The California misregulation of the electricity market was primarily caused by price controls. If you limit the amount that a price can rise, then if the product demand increases, supply will not increase to meet the demand. This is simple economic theory. Did you sleep through that class, too?
    -russ
  • man, have you ever bargained for a burger?

    that's a pretty goofy article..."Their next argument is similarly perverse." Their argument? that the way things are going, when email is universal, there will always be some people still getting spam. I hope the author is one of them.

    he didn't go into detail, but everything he agreed with sounds like the trend that's been growing. like shoppers club cards at supermarkets. He's just pushing more of the same.

  • I can't stand those little cards. They are almost as bad as coupons. Both do nothing more than make the market less efficient for consumers. I used to shop at Safeway regularly, and another thing I noticed is that the "savings" come mostly on name-brand products that are junk food or heavily laced with additives. They practicly never "save" you anything on healthy staples like rice or bananas.

    There may be hope though. Coupons seem to have peaked now, and I actually recall one chain advertising that they had simply lowered the prices so that "you don't have to pay for somebody elses double coupons". Unfortunately, the cards seem to have sprung up in their place. I eagerly await the day Safeway launches an ad campaign saying "No coupons, no cards, no hassles--just low prices and prompt service".

    Are there any aspiring young Sam Walton types reading this? I hope so.

  • We already have a free market in privacy!! Why, just the other day, I was offered 10,000 guaranteed email addresses for a trivial sum!
  • by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Monday February 05, 2001 @07:15PM (#453781) Homepage
    • if a decision how to value something is left for everyone in each case, ones with more negotiating power, force their decisions on everybody else.


    If people get to make their own decisions (which is the case in a free market), then how is someone able to force their decisions on everybody else? Either you didn't write what you mean, or what you mean is incomprehensible.



    -russ
  • Lowtax suggested a different solution. [efront.com]

    If every time people try to use the benefits of the internet business model, consumers yowl for their privacy, the internet will die.

  • There are many different types of electronic privacy:

    - Credit card numbers
    - Where you visit on the Web
    - What you bought on the Web
    - Your emails and other things you've typed in forums like slashdot and say, deja vu
    - other stuff that I can't think of right now.
    - coming soon: genetic data on you (a la GATTACA)

    So which are they dealing with in this article? Maybe it's me, but the argument is too abstract for me. But let me address the above list.

    It is already illegal to give out credit card numbers, but it is apparently legal for companies to keep your number on file. Recall Egghead recently got cracked and numbers may have been compromised. In the discussion here, it was pointed out that some companies have a policy to delete numbers after the sale, but many don't. Because of the accessibility of these numbers to crackers, a valuable adjunct to the current law might be a stipulation that CC numbers be discarded after, oh, thirty days or a year or something that makes sense. Certainly, if a company asked me if I wanted a discount for not making them 'forget' my CC number it would seem absurd.

    Where you visit on the Web and what you purchase and what you say need to have protection from our governments, IMO. The author argues that these could be negotiable: I don't mind you knowing that I bought a TiVO from Buy.com, but the teen who needs help about his homosexual urges might never get help if (s)he thought it would be revealed. If someone could produce all my postings to even this place it might prove embarrassing in a certain context, which is why I appreciate /. providing for a level of privacy that I can be comfortable with. That and the opportunity to post AC. Now if this all became negotiable - it would take legislation, and I am not sure the current regime in the US would do it because they feel pressure from companies and not people who they have managed to insulate themselves from - I might be more free in my associations on the Web, but I doubt it. I have determined not to change my behavior regardless of who knows about it, but not everyone is that way. Many people regard online transactions as foolish: "you gave out your Credit Card on the web?" That sort of thing. "You admitted that you killed someone in a chat room?" Clearly that would be foolish, but if we protect privacies it cannot be case-specific, it would have to be like in that movie where Mickey Rourke confesses a murder to the priest who happens to be the only witness and the priest couldn't then testify against Mickey.

    The fact that email can be used against someone in a court of law seems to me to be an invasion of privacy, but there ya have it, folks. Careful what you say in emails, in chat rooms, in /.

    But when I get spammed with emails telling me how to lose weight fast (I am not by any stretch of the imagination fat), I have to wonder who sent that out, how they got my email addy, and when did I make the mistake of allowing that company to get information on me. This should not be allowed, IMO. Not without my permission. Jeez, everyone posting here has a fake email addy so that some moronic company (or maybe 50 mc's) don't grab 'em all, make up a list and spam the crap out of us with "Win a free Linux t-shirt!" offers.

    One last point on privacy: it used to be that it was Illegal for a company to ask for your Social Security Number (please correct me if I am wrong). Now it seems that everyone feels entitled to ask you for the "Number of the Beast". I used to try to protest, but they tell me that it is required. The centralization of all this data (or its mere potential) should give us all pause. I think that the dangers inherent in the massive compilation capabilities offered to evil corps should give us all pause...

  • by DoorFrame (22108) on Monday February 05, 2001 @07:20PM (#453784) Homepage
    So is it impossible for poor people to make any financial decisions on their own, merely because they are poor?

    By neccessity right now, I cannot buy a car. It's too expensive for me, I cannot afford it. Is this a social injustice? I would gladly trade some personal information in order to get a substancial discount... does this mean I'm being exploited? Should laws be made to right this wrong?
  • The same freedom that allows you to succeed in life also allows you to fail. Thats part of having freedom. A person is free to make mistakes. You can suggest that people not make those mistakes but it is their life and they are free to live it how they shoose. To say that people are stupid and therefore should not be allowed to do what YOU feel is stupid is insulting AND infringes on others' rights.
  • This is a case where we don't really have to wonder what the free market would do if privacy rates were publicly traded, since they already are, in the most high-tech place many of us ever visit on a regular basis.

    In the grocery store. The people who were the big push in bringing you Universal Product Codes, instant coupons based on what you bought, and, let's face it, the entire shopping cart metaphor on which the internet is based (:-)), have also brought you, in many markets, the Value Card. (OK, sometimes it's a key-chain or dongle these days.) The only thing you need to do to get one is to fill out the handy form...and then, from then on, everything you buy from there is recorded as having been bought by you. Everything from avacados to zesta saltines, and from birth control pills to Prozac.

    It's a marketer's dream.

    Now, you do, of course, get something for your trouble: sales and price breaks that, in my experience, never amount to anything more than you could have gotten from the same grocery store before they had the "Value" program, or more than you could get from a competing grocery store that did not have a "Rewards" program (or whatever they might call it). So let's calculate the value of your privacy, as estimated by the market:

    Hmm, that looks like about Zero, to me. Now maybe it's possible that when all stores have these programs, and many people are essentially forced to join one to get the kind of prices they used to get without selling all of their privacy, it's possible then that we would see market competition between grocery stores concerning what you get for your privacy rights. Or not. What we might more likely see is a vast expansion of the "instant coupons" idea, where your price and my price for the same good can vary depending on the rest of our buying habits, and which brands are willing to shell out a little bit more in price breaks for their least loyal customers.

  • The tragedy of the commons is not a demonstration of irrationality, quite the contrary, it's a demonstration of rationality and self centeredness. It is an apt demonstration of one of the reasons why socialism and communism fail. If I am rational and self-centered, and if sharing costs me something, I simply won't share unless I profit as a result of sharing. Put simply, you have no assurances if you share that you'll gain anything; the only assurance is that you'll lose something in the process of sharing.

    If most other people don't share, it's a losing proposition. Though it may be true that we would be better off if everyone shared (this is debatable), it presumes COORDINATION of interests. Rationality simply does not gaurantee this, that is a seperate issue entirely. We are rational as individuals. Thus the example is not proof that people are irrational.

    You might call someone irrational, if they can share 1 unit and are assured to get 3 unit in return, and refuse to share, but this is simply not the case with the tragedy in the commons. People are generally good when they can directly control their own welfare. Leaving it up to the individual makes sense when the effects of their action primarily just affect and benefit themselves. This privacy issue is just such a case.

    There are of course times where we require a certain coordination and enlightened self-interest, where we require by law or as a society that a person MUST do a thing (i.e., taxes, speed limits, other laws, etc), but these do not contradict rationality--they contradict COORDINATION. A libertarian might reject the arguments for them, but they aren't, or shouldn't be, making them solely on the grounds of rationality.

    Anyways, I am a capitalist and, if anything, a Republican, not a Libertarian.

    PS: People may not be perfectly rational, but we don't need perfection to do a vastly better job on the aggregate. For that matter, we're not perfect in anything, so why should presume our reasoning for our laws are any better?

  • Actually, I was involved in a homeless assistance group for several years, and they provided food. It was a very good way for poor students to help out and meet people who generally are completely marginalized. There are many different kinds of groups, and most of them help with their particular agendas.

    I can't really comment too much on your other remarks, as I am running short on time, but also because you appear to severely misunderstand my arguments, and the reality of maldistribution of resources. Why do I care about rich CEOs? Well, they have lots of money, which means they can affect electoral processes, they have a lot of control over information distribution, and many corporate officers are responsible for socially and environmentally destructive uses of resources. As far as your remarks about trading, I think you should perhaps do some critical reading of the stock market and other various markets. I suggest Doug Henwood's Wall Street.

    Remember, as long as you have a system in which private capital can accumulate most of the available resources (such as land) and means of production, then you have a profoundly undemocratic set-up for most other people.
  • I think what you are saying you meant as "rational" was really "always makes perfect decisions". I read rational as meaning "capable of thinking".

    People are not irrational (typically) although they can make what seem to be irrational actions. These actions are still (typically) rational, just a decision was made to trade the effort of thinking for a simpler response to a situation.

    The fundamental problem is probably this:

    I would guess from your words that you believe that if someone decides to choose to not think, just repond...that it is alright and that if someone is hurt by those actions, then it was merely irrational and we are all human, right? Perhaps in some instances, the law should intervene and help people be protected from themselves not thinking? Does this sound like you would agree to it?

    I disagree firmly with that attitude. I believe that if you decide not to think about a situation and you get screwed, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Now that doesn't mean that I won't help someone out personally; I am more than willing to help someone out with my own efforts once or twice, particularly if they are familty etc. But I do not think that the government should make me protect other people from themselves.

    I think this "I am irrational" thing sets me off because I hate to see people not willing to take personal responsibility and would much rather have them say "Dammit, I wasn't thinking, can you give me a hand? or please forgive me".

    When you cross that point where you think someone else (government) should protect you (when you are clearly able to protect yourself if you tried), you have started down a very slippery slope.

    I don't believe moderation was applied to my posts, i just get a +1 bonus (removed this time).
  • ...article. But its author doesn't seem to realize how close his ideas really are to Lessig's and to the more extreme privacy-as-a-right advocates.

    We probably can arrive at some way of painlessly negotiating a privacy agreement with each web site we visit. The degree to which that would produce an Antioch-like solution is more a matter of technology and establishing open protocols for machine negotiation than any legal, moral or social issue. (BTW, it is my personal belief that anyone who cannot figure out a way to ask permission without "breaking the mood" shouldn't be in college, probably doesn't deserve sex, and definitely shouldn't have their genes passed on to the next generation. Not that the Antioch policy is particularly well thought out, but anyone who whines about it probably can't get sex without it or with it.)

    The real problem with such a market is not the spectre of the Antioch dean of students writing our pop-up permissions boxes. The real problem derives from the fact that the very people who will pay for the privacy are the only ones the marketers want, while the poor who trade away such rights do not have the addresses and phone numbers which make for valuable mailing lists. But that's a problem for telemarketers and their ilk, not one civilized people will lose much sleep over.

    The author of the article, however, fails to realize (as libertarians frequently do) the importance of big government to their free markets. I can only trade in the value of my personal information if I can own it (as Lessig suggests) or if others cannot trade in it (as the more extreme privacy-right advocates urge). These two are probably not as different as the author seems to believe. But maybe he is just being intellectually careful about accurately stating the positions of others (something which is always attractive, especially in libertarians).

    If a web site can violate the terms of their agreement with me about my personal data, then only a fairly strong governmental role can enable me to consistently detect such a violation. Much of the trade in personal information is deliberately hidden from the subject of the information. For instance, your credit report (probably the most expensive personal data around) is provided to your bank with the explicit promise on their part not to allow you to see it. You may have the right to ask the reporting service to reveal your report (a right which only exists because the government has legislated it), but the users of that data are explicitly prohibited from making it available to you.

    Because the value assigned to each item of personal data are necessarily going to be small, enforcement by individuals is only possible if the government regulates the personal-data industry in such a way that requires fairly complete records of the way the data is acquired, sold and distributed. Such records must be fairly easy for the average person to access (the web suggests itself as an obvious solution) but must themselves be protected from abuse.

    In short, as attractive as the liberal arguments put forward by the writer are, the market he imagines cannot be fleshed out without a fairly large governmental presence: both regulatory and judicial (a kind of microclaims court or Privacy Rights Part of the Civil Court).

    His arguments are strong and convincing. But, if he imagines he is miles away from Lessig and the others, he is simply looking through the wrong end of his binoculars.
  • There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of trading personal information for goods or services. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with the concept of a free market, where companies can offer a wide range of products, services, and TERMS. In fact, both are appealing and I can understand why many people would be hesitant to put limitations on said. In order to understand why others feel the need to do just that, one must give due consideration to the REALITIES of the free market.

    Theoretically, consumers have the power to decide which practices continue and which practices don't. We can, after all, provide feedback and vote with our feet. Companies wanting to stay in business must satisfy the wishes of their customers. Where there is unfullfilled demand, companies will see an opportunity to profit and move to satisfy that demand. Etc. However, as the saying goes, reality bites.

    In a world where corporations have hundreds of thousands, millions, and in some cases tens of millions of customers... and where corporations have a tremendous amount of power, money, and influence (individually, let alone collectively), it is very difficult for consumers to exert enough pressure to change things. Sure, extremely serious situations, such as those involving a threat to one's health, ma [eventually] generate enough public attention, outrage, and lawsuits to force a change. But for less serious situations, say privacy or unethical direct marketing practices in general, a strong and broad "movement" is unlikely to materialize. Even if most people object to the practices in question. Why? Because people are busy with the burdens and responsibilities of every day life. They simply don't have the TIME to actively combat every problem they come across. Even if they do, many are overwhelmed and discouraged by the daunting task of combating a corporation or industry.

    So what happens, over time, is that more and more corporations end up having their way. Which is, naturally, to collect and use as much information as possible. After all, where only a minority of consumers are actively objecting, secondary use of collected information and unsolicited direct marketing pays handsomely. Corporations tend to follow each other's lead. You need to stay abreast, if not ahead, of the competition. If the competition is out-profiting you by using such practices, you better get in the game too. This produces a trend where companies, particularly large publically traded companies that emphasize the bottom line above all else, keep pushing the limits. Mainstream companies are some of the worse offenders in terms of requiring people to cough up information and then using that information for secondary purposes (usually without their explicit consent). This greatly exacerbates the problem, for people are strongly compelled to do business with such "reputable" companies. To say that the mainstream companies have a captive audience wouldn't be too far off the mark. Again, realistically speaking. Can you imagine how much more difficult and expensive life would be if you couldn't, because of objectionable practices, do business with any of the top 5 or 10 businesses in an essential industry like computers or health care or banking, or the like? This is the situation/risk privacy conscious people are facing. To give in to such practices or restructure their life so as to avoid such practices. Practically speaking, that's not much of choice IMO.
  • What happens when "they" already HAVE your information?

    If John and Jane Poordoe have little baby Alex, they surrender every bit of data they can , and commit to continue doing so until Alex reaches the age of consent.

    Alex, at 18, attempts to surrender some data in order to buy his first car. Since he can't afford to move out yet, he doesn't. Since he can't afford school, he doesn't have much new information on his educational future (other than that he'd like to go someday)

    Because there's so little new information on Alex, no one is buying and no one will offer a discount. on the prospect of gathering data that they already have.

  • If people get to make their own decisions (which is the case in a free market), then how is someone able to force their decisions on everybody else? Either you didn't write what you mean, or what you mean is incomprehensible.

    I will give a VERY extreme example to illustrate the point.

    I meet you on a dark street, I pull out a gun and say "Give me all your cash and your watch or I'll shoot you in the head". I have given you a choice. You are perfectly free to give me the bird and then die.

    In the case at hand, I the consumer will have the choice of surrendering my privacy or moving into a cabin in the woods and living off the land. I will have to hunt with hand made bow and arrow (or give up my private information to the store I buy shotgun shells from).

    Forget free market pressure, 90% of the public are too naieve to realize that they are giving up something of value. Which market do you want to cater to, the 90% of the population (sheep) or the less profitable 10%?

    As we have seen with 'privacy policies' on the web, what assurance do I have that the company lived up to it's end of the deal? That it will continue to even if it is going bankrupt? If it does break the deal, do I go on the raman noodle diet so I can afford a lawyer to sue them (vs their small army of lawyers with nothing better to do), or do I just forget it?

    As I see it, the biggest problem with free markets is that they only work well when all parties are equally well informed and equally equipped to make the best decisions. What really happens is that Joe Sixpack who has 2 hours on the weekend to make a purchase decision is pitted against a small army of better educated professionals whose sole job is to manipulate people just like him (on a massive scale). Even if he does go to school and get that PhD, he is still outnumbered by a multi-disciplinary team of psychologists, accountants, and business people, all of whom are focused on getting as much as possible out of PhDs just like him.

    He could form an organization with an equal small army of professionals whose sole job is to get the best deals out of a small army of professionals just like them, but when will he find time to earn the money he would use to make the purchase? He could simply contract with such a company, but then, who protects him from THEM?

    In other words, we already have such a privacy market. We are all free to only do business with companies that will respect our personal data, and it has lead to exactly where we are today. "I'll need your driver's license and daytime phone number. Please drop your pants, grab your ankles, and cough".

  • I value my privacy very highly.

    But I dont think that making something mandatory, either for 'opt in' or 'opt out' is the answer. Its all just falls back to supply and demand / quid pro quo. If you dont think that what you want, whatever that might be, is worth what you have to give for it... Don't do it.

    Of course the reverse is true as well.

    In my youth I gave the US military free rein into my personal life so that I could get what I thought was a good job in electronics. 10 years ago I would have said that it was the worst mistake of my life letting them root around my personal affairs. Now? I have a great job that I can trace back to alot of things I learned as a result of my military service. Today I say that it was worth it. Give me another 10 years and I might say otherwise. But in the end it was my choice to say "Here, jump into my personal affairs, and give me room, board, and money in my pocket in exchange." I could have just as easily went to work at the local muffler shop and gotten paid under the table. No one the wiser.

    Especially me.

    My point is that I think it should be a personal decision to what information you give out. Not some oversight committee that has agendas that may or may not align with yours. Every time you let someone else make a decision or draw a line so that you dont have to think about it or make an informed decision yourself (or haggle with the other party for the best deal you can get for what you are willing to give them), you lose a little freedom. And before you know it, you fi1%&^$
    *** The rest of this comment has been censored ***
    ***by those who have your best interests in mind***
  • The poor need X.
    Evil capitalists make the poor pay Y to get X.
    Nice people make it illegal to pay Y to get X.
    The poor no longer get X.
  • Who would ever purchase privacy from you again? You obviously don't live up to your agreements. For that matter, how does sarah know that you're telling the truth? Perhaps you're lying again.
    -russ
  • People who don't have money are less likely to spend it on advertised products anyway, so probably not.
  • I have two examples of "good spam"

    I am a My Yahoo person. It's my portal of choice. My web-habits bring me to several common sites, including /., on a daily basis. I gave my info to My Yahoo - because their service is not available at any other price - and it's the best I've found so far. Would I pay for identical services if it meant that my personal data were safe? Yes, but I'm not sure how much I would pay. $5/mo?
    Anyway, their posession of my personal data led to a targeted ad, a Yahoo platinum Visa, at 9.9%. I was sick of being screwed by credit card companies with 18% interest, so I dumped my other cards and got the Yahoo Visa, and I've used that card for over two years now.
    Sometimes, Yahoo deliberately allows obvious bulk email advertising find it's way into my email inbox, instead of the bulk email folder. Of course, they're probably getting a cut. I don't like that, I deal with it, I delete it, but I think it is - unethical, considering that I paid my "personal info" to them, and responded to a rather lucrative ad for them. I have reached my limit of 100 blocked addresses.

    On the other hand, one email that DID find it's way into yahoo mail's bulk mail folder, was an ad from a car parts shop. I had ordered their catalog about a year ago, they emailed me to inform me of a 20% off sale. That was FAR MORE desirable an ad than "Get rich at home in your spare time" or "hot sexy high school girls want to strip for you". In fact, I responded to THAT ad, and ordered about $900 worth of parts for my project car. I was VERY happy to have saved about $170 on this sale. I was VERY happy to have been notified.

    Would I be as happy if that Car Parts sales company sold my address to the "hot sexy high school girls want to give you head in your convertible" people? No, I'd be fucking pissed. It would be unethical. Companies should not do that, and this kind of thing really ought to be explicitly Opt In, with a yearly expiration.

    I don't think that use of this information should stop - but I think the unethical practices of selective spam filtering by email providers, and the unsolicited selling of personal data to third parties, need to stop.
  • At least HALF the fault lies with the utilities, who lobbied the brain-dead politicians for exactly the situation they got. They knew that as long as commodity prices for Gas stayed low, they would make huge profits, and if they got out of hand, there would really be no choice other than a Government bailout. Both ways, consumers get fucked.
  • Companies cannot force you to buy their products, and, likewise, you cannot force them to change their privacy policies.

    I have slowly been crossing various consumer electronics retailers off of my list when they provide me with poor service, poor products, or both. I'm rapidly running out of retailers. If I have to cross off just one more, I'll have to drivce for hours to get to the nearest store. Problem is, I don't have hours to just drive around.

  • The RIAA, has, for some time, been moaning about the perils of digital piracy. A digital medium, by its very nature, involves no generational loss when it is copied. Thus, once a recording gets on the internet, there a few technical barriers (besides bandwidth) to mass "unauthorized" distribution.

    So while the RIAA might not care about me taping an LP to give to a friend, it cares a great deal about my distribution of same song (in mp3 format) on the internet.

    At the same time, while my local druggist might knwo that I purchase a particular combination of drugs each month, that information did not, (until recently) go into a central computer so as to inform hordes of people unknown to me, that I had such and such a combination of health problems.

    In a sense, the mantra of the RIAA is correct. Digital is different. It allows the effortless transmission of information-- sometimes in a manner that may not be completely benign.

    To extend this analogy-- if I copy a tape for my own personal use-- or let a friend borrow an album, my actions fall under "fair use." In the same manner, the corner drugstore is perfectly justified in using my purchase information to plan its inventory. It is a "fair use". It may even store information about my address, phone number, etc., so as to conduct an appropriate commercial relationship with me. If I have a problem with its discretion, I can and will shop elsewhere.

    But if information is bought and sold on a free wheeling basis, and a complete list of my medications is transmitted to "Blackmail-drugs.com", what's to stop them from selling a complete pristine, "generation loss free" copy of my data to everybody?

    Even if I value my privacy highly, and only let the most trustworthy individuals have access to my personal details, it only takes one previously trustworthy individual to sell that data to multiple non-discrete orginizations, reducing the value of my privacy.

    If John gives me 10$ to keep my mouth shut, I can keep my mouth shut, I can accept $11 from sarah, and tell her, or I can accept 25$ from a newspaper intent on reveling the details of Congressman John's "secret life." The newspaper, of course, will sell these details to 50,000 people, for $0.25 each...
  • The tragedy of the commons is not a demonstration of irrationality, quite the contrary, it's a demonstration of rationality and self centeredness. It is an apt demonstration of one of the reasons why socialism and communism fail.

    Actually, it is the opposite. It can be summed up in the Prisoners' Dilemma. The best outcome for the prisoners taken together can only happen if they both keep silent. The best outcome for each prisoner individually is if he rats the other out and the other keeps silent. Result: both rat the other out, and both loose collectivly and individually.

    Have a look at http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/playground/pd.html [brynmawr.edu] for a minor variation involving gold coins. It shows quite clearly that two equal competitors making rational self interested decisions will average 2.5 gold coins each round rather than a certainty of 3/round unless they act collectivly with mutual trust.

    A psychologist has tried that in real life (minus the horrible fate) by placing $5 into a bowl each round with 5 players. When the buzzer sounds, they are each free to grab all the money they can out of the bowl. If there is still money in the bowl, he adds another $5 and play continues. He set a maximum payout of $500. He never had to pay out the whole $500. (I may have the amounts wrong, but that's the jist of the experiment).

    The problem in all such situations is that if each individual has complete freedom to choose, all it takes is one moron to ruin the game for everyone. There is no shortage of morons out there.

  • So is it impossible for poor people to make any financial decisions on their own, merely because they are poor?

    I would say that it is statistically less likely that they will make a sound financial decision.

    There are several reasons people are poor. Either they cannot gather enough critical mass of wealth to stop being poor (tuition+4 years = decent wages but w/o decent wages, no tuition, down payment + x/month = house, but 1.5*x/month in rent = no down payment), or they are in the process of gathering the critical mass, or they are poor financial decision makers (actually think rent-to-own TV and furnature is a good deal, certain that if they play the lottery long enough they will be rich).

    By neccessity right now, I cannot buy a car. It's too expensive for me, I cannot afford it. Is this a social injustice? I would gladly trade some personal information in order to get a substancial discount... does this mean I'm being exploited? Should laws be made to right this wrong?

    Consider the 'value cards' some grocery stores offer. In exchange for letting them track all of your purchaces as an individual, you get a discount (say 10%). In fact, what happens is that the prices go up 10% and you must get the card to maintain status quo. So in all liklihood, under such a plan, you will still be unable to buy a car, it's just that it will be 10% harder than it already is unless you surrender your personal information.

  • You are assuming that there isn't free in beer solutions for privacy. A free market economy, can support free or OpenSource software quite well, you can see rigth now with stuff like OpenSSH, alot of crypto stuff extra. I trust free market crypto (and privacy), far more then stuff generated and controlled by the goverment.

    <p>The goverment has a much larger conflict of interest, then most non-profits and for-profit organizations. The US goverment is very big, and they have hands into everything -- who says they would respect your privacy.

    <p>Free-market, does not mean only greedy money bag faceless corperations. Non-Profits are an essentail part of Free-markets.
  • Trust is an important key, but having the goverment force it upon us, is far from ideal.
  • The author mentions that society couldn't function without the help of reputation; that "In the older days, we relied on gossip for the exchange of that information" and suggests that the technological private information that travels around now is an equal to that.

    This is wrong in one critical way. In the olden days, gossip followed one around for a year or so. More if you were horrible, forever only if you were an infamous evil/good person.

    TODAY: Every small detail of everything you've ever done, all transactions you've made - the time you wrote a mean letter to your newspaper online. All of that follows you Indefinately!.

    This is the critical difference. The need to protect privacy is more than just protecting your anonymity. It's also about protecting yourself from the dumb things you did at age 17 coming back to haunt you when it's time to get credit on your car.
  • by Alex Belits (437) on Monday February 05, 2001 @07:55PM (#453814) Homepage

    If people get to make their own decisions (which is the case in a free market), then how is someone able to force their decisions on everybody else? Either you didn't write what you mean, or what you mean is incomprehensible.

    No sane person will make "his own decisions" when confronted on any important issue (more important than, say, price of a bagel in a coffee shop) -- he will look for someone else to make sure that large enough number of participants will make the same decision, so it will either become the only solution available to the opponent, or at least represent large enough piece of the market.

    This is what I ,mean by "negotiating power", and this is what in simple case of prices and salaries companies exercise when they standardize their products and what workers exercise when they join unions. When things are more important than money (health, civil liberties, life), even if conflict doesn't lead to direct physical confrontations, various groups of people and organizations start all kinds of exercises of negotiating power -- recent example is Ashcroft's confirmation, where more organized Republicans forced large number of Democrats to vote contrary to their true opinion.

    In the case of privacy the conflict is over a liberty of being able to keep private information. People want to keep it, however they need very complex and costly process of organizing a boycott to force companies to change their policies -- that forces each person to act as if very little of negotiating power is available to him. OTOH, companies have no trouble of creating all kinds of groups and alliances that force uniform privacy standards -- companies' executives expect that whatever horrendous infringemnet of personal privacy will be in the standard, joining the group will be more beneficial to the company than establishing a better privacy standard, as customers will expect low privacy, and once lost their personal information to one of companies in the group, they won't see any benefit in not "losing it again" to another company. To make things worse, companies may choose monopolists with some essential service (say, FedEx and UPS) and offer large payments for disclosure of customers' data to the rest of the group, thus making any attempt by other companies to respect privacy absolutely pointless, even if the original anti-privacy group will be small.

  • No, the problem is that the cost of getting electricity to California is above the cost you can sell it at. There's a cap on consumer rates (effectively, not in detail), and the supply market is artificially overpriced. Oh, and you can't build any new plants because it's bad for the environment. And only gas plants have been built for like the past 20 years, which are the most expensive around. Oh, yeah, did we mention that the same environmentalists who keep people from building plants want to mandate electric cars?

    Fucking communists should move to China, and leave us alone.
  • Call the IRS and ask for a Tax ID number. After you fill out the paperwork you will be given a number which has the same number of digits as an SSN and can be used as one anywhere. Anytime people ask for your SSN give them your Tax ID number instead. It's legal, it's easy and it's safe.
  • What other fundamental rights can we marketize? Maybe we can pay off the government's debt by marketizing speech - put a tax or a fee on every letter of the alphabet that we use. Or a market in freedom itself - some people might start off as slaves, but they would have an incentive to invest and become free, and the market would solve the problems.
  • by Sir_Winston (107378) on Monday February 05, 2001 @10:06PM (#453825)
    Well, rhetorical as it may be, I just had to answer this question with a story about a bunch of bored college kids and an all-night Wal-Mart. We didn't actually do this, mind you, but in our small college town there wasn't much to do on weeknights aside from renting movies or mindlessly roaming the Wal-Mart trying to pick up the few townies who were actually attractive and had all their teeth intact. But one night we were spitballing stuff to do and someone jokingly came up with a good way to freak out underpaid overworked teenage chack-out girls. Go with a bunch of guys to the Wal-Mart, or any such, and gather all the following, and anything else questionable when taken together: the biggest box of condoms, a length of nylon rope, some Polaroid film, duct tape, one of those sleeping masks, several pairs of junior-miss sized panties, whipped cream, K-Y, ski mask, some lollipops, some Lady Gillette razors and women's shaving gel, a couple issues of children's magazines like Nickelodeon Kids or Teen Beat or something, and anything else either sexual, related to youngsters, or with possible bondage uses. That poor, poor clerk wouldn't quite know what to make of all that stuff purchased together by a bunch of college boys--separately, it's entirely innocent; bought at once, it looks quite suspicious. Of course, I don't actually recommend purchasing all that stuff together, unless you're prepared to explain your sick joke to some authorities if the clerk really freaks out.

    But, getting back on topic, those privacy-stealing store discount cards you mentioned are a real nuisance. So few people who have them realize that their shopping habits are being kept in databases, sold to marketers, and being put in a position to be used against them. I can't vouch for its truthfulness, but I did read an account that someone in a small town who was suspected of being the local marijuana and coke connection had had his shopping records used against him--the sheriff's office convinced a judge they had cause for a warrant on various other accounts, and subpoenad his purchase records to see if he bought unusual quantities of plastic baggies, straws, and other potential tools of the drug trade. Now, the story may well be spurious, like the old man-wakes-up-in-tub-of-ice-with-kidney-gone story, but it does illustrate the dangers here. Your purchasing records persist if you use such a card under your own name, and your buying habits could be used against you. In this case, it was a drug dealer who had his buying habits examined--but even discounting the popular opposition to this War-on-Drugs rhetoric bullshit, you can never know where this could lead. What if you're suspected of tax evasion, and the IRS decides your shopping records might show that you live above your reported means? Should they get your shopping records? What if they don't even need a subpoena, what if they can just buy your data on the open market, with no oversight? Background checks are now commonplace in job screenings and insurance applications--what if employers and insurance companies start looking at people's buying habits, to weed out people who buy too much alcohol or too many unhealthy foods? We live in an information society, and it's not at all extremist or unrealistic to think it's just a few steps from where we are now to a very Orwellian state of affairs...

  • by juliansanchez (313476) on Tuesday February 06, 2001 @09:38AM (#453826)

    I'm a bit surprised, but naturally quite happy, that my little piece has generated so much discussion. Let me respond to a few criticisms.

    • "This is just a rehash..." Yeah, the position I'm taking isn't novel. If it were, Shapiro and Rotenberg couldn't have already attacked it, giving me someone to argue against.
    • "Disinformation"- OK, some people will lie on forms. If it becomes economically worthwhile to do so, firms will develop more robust verification schemes like Adult Check or rely on digital signatures publicly linked to verifiable identities. Or maybe they'll just be willing to accept a certain amount of information pollution.
    • "You can't have a market for a 'negative good;' it's like paying extortion money, and generates perverse incentives." Privacy markets aren't really analgous to the case of the thug asking for a payoff to refrain from breaking your windows. Unlike the victim in that case, users ultimately control what information they want to release to websites. Someone's bound to mention cookies-- I'll just point out that those can be shut off, and more importantly, that future versions of the popular browsers are supposedly incorporating more robust cookie-screening features. Isn't it generally better on face to let a problem be tackled by this kind of individualizable, technological solution than by top-down control?
    • "But you still need government to enforce contracts." Sure. I'm not an anarchist-- if a company lies about their practices in a privacy policy, that's fraud. Same as when any other business lies about their product or practices. You should be able to take them to court.
    • "Who would bother to do all this haggling?" or (in economese)"This raises transaction costs- Inefficient!" I tried to deal with this objection in the article, but let me add the following to what I said there. There exists a strong incentive for either 3rd parties or software protocols to be developed, which make it easy for users to deal with privacy issues. Maybe you set your browser to block any page demanding more than a certain amount of information. Or maybe you allow it to offer you various prices on a case by case basis, or to auto-accept offers of (say) a certain discount level for different kinds of information shared. I flubbed in the article by attributing similar features to P3P, when apparently they've been removed since I wrote the piece some months ago. I'd still say it's a safe bet that something along those lines will emerge.
    • "But you can't sell yourself into slavery, why should you be able to sell your privacy?" This is just a bizarre analogy-- there are very specific reasons why slavery contracts are morally suspect, and they don't cross apply to privacy in the least. If I want to publish all my private information on my webpage, I have a free-speech right to do so, don't I? If privacy were truly inalienable, I could legitimately be prevented from doing this by law. If we then decide privacy is *not* inalienable, the addition of an economic incentive to speak can't possibly make it so.
    • "If most people don't care about privacy, it'll be harder to find sites that respect it." I think this is also addressed in the article. There's no inherent right to shop on the web on your most preferred terms. And I certainly deny that we have a right to make everyone pay the costs of the privacy we demand.
    • "This is wacky free-market utopianism with its head stuck in an econ textbook." Actually, I thought of the article's primary argument as moral, not economic. But as for the economics-- what in particular is wrong with the argument I lay out? This "perfect markets fantasy" thing is a strawman-- nobody believes in that, least of all me. The question is whether markets tend to approach an efficient outcome better than do regulatory schemes. I don't need to claim that markets will make all the children of the world sing together in harmony, just that they'll perform certain tasks more effectively than the alternatives.
    • "You're a silly libertarian who argues at an 8th grade level and can't write." Guilty as charged.

    -julian sanchez
  • Doesn't that exceed your IP quota for the day? Just watch yourself, buster.

    The licensing of personal data would be just about mandatory for the "free market" proposal in the article to work. And, if the technology exists to do it for music, it certainly would work for spammers and telemarketers who could be required to use software that won't violate any license. This might even be a valid use for the DMCA.

    I doubt that the GPL would be an appropriate license, however, since it not only allows infinite distribution rights but also REQUIRES the IP covered be published if amended. I don't think I want anyone to be required to publish my personal info if they add a note to their database describing what I said to them when they called me a 6pm. (I work nights and telemarketers almost always wake me from a sound sleep.)

    And I really like the idea of a web site which autogens fake but valid addresses. Be sure to let us know when you've got it running. I'd be a little careful about randomly generating apparently valid phone numbers because the rightful owners of those numbers might feel they were being treated unfairly. But, if you could make so it randomly chooses a spammer's home number, I might even be willing to pay for the service.
  • That is not opposite. In fact, it's essentially the same phenomenon. In both situations, all involved parties may theoretically benefit more, as an individuals, if they COORDINATE their actions. They do not, because in their own little, immediate, and self-centered microcosms it does not benefit them. [One could take this argument even further and argue the theoretical outcome versus the intuited and the empirical outcomes--where a person might not be a "moron" at all, because the theory is impossible.]

    Whether you wish to call this irrationality or not is a semantic argument that is largely irrelvent to the underlying question. There is a large, but subtle distinction to be made. In the "tragedy of the commons" and in the "Dilema", you involve an outside universe, beyond just self, that necessarily involves a great many additional factors. None of this says that a person cannot decide, for instance, whether he'd rather have 4 dollars or 5 dollars. Likewise, it also does not say that a person is too irrational as to decide if he'd rather have 5m (or any number) dollars [in exchange for interested business entities knowing his shopping habits] or his "privacy".
  • How is this different from the way things are now? I'll send in rebate forms, fill out sweepstakes entries, wtc. because I'm too poor to afford my geek lifestyle otherwise. On the other extreme, it takes a good deal of moolah to get a swiss bank account. The rich have privacy and the poor don't. End of story.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Apart from believing that Mr. Sanchez's views are silly and ignorant for social reasons, even economicallys speaking I don't think his proposal is wise or even plausable. Here's why. If I know that I can get a discount in exchange for releasing my information, then I will do whatever I can to FALSIFY anything that I can get away with falsifing. If it became easy for me to falsify most of the information that I provide, then the value of the information that I give would go down, and companies would not be able to provide significant added value for that information. In order for such an information market to work, it would therefore ironically need REGULATION from an external entity, such as the government (Can you imagine Mr. Sanchez asking the government to regulate his market?) Think that that is speculation? Why is it illegal to falsify information to credit agencies and bureaus? Because the businesses that take your credit card numbers need to be able to trust that the credit card company will pay them. And how do the credit card companies ensure that trust? They take LEGAL action against you when you don't pay. Since they need to know who you are in order to take legal action, credit card agencies obviously rely on the accuracy of the information that you provide to stay in business. Thus the credit market needs regulation to avoid disaster. So laissez faire capitalists such as Mr. Sanchez are left with two unpaletable options. On the one hand they can let the market fail, and the other they can hypocritically ask the government to intervene. What would government intervention mean? I certainly would be in jail by now if the information that I provide to any old website were held to the same legal standards as information I provide to my bank!
  • I would be wary of anything a high school economics teacher says, particularly in favor of free market economics. I'd like to know exactly what problems the free market solved, and efficiently. What's called neoliberal economic philosophy, that arguing for free markets, tends to be textbook rationalizations for economic inequality. Abstract ideas which justify mass exploitation. It's funny, because they cite Adam Smith but probably never made it through his work, which clearly argues social equality is a necessary prerequisite for a free market. In fact, that makes me want to ask my former econ teacher, who seriously misrepresented some of these philosophers, "Did you ever read anything besides the synopsis?"
  • by namespan (225296) <namespan@noSPaM.elitemail.org> on Monday February 05, 2001 @10:14PM (#453836) Journal
    Yeah, yeah. Now, ask yourself -- why did they want to deregulate in the first place? What was the incentive for deregulation?

    Well, because some people thought that the market would become more effecient, and power would become cheaper.

    Now a few people realized that any utilities market where the infrastructure is as expensive and hard to create as our current power market wouldn't work like a commodoties market.

    So they introduced price controls as a compromise. After all, since the market was going to get more effecient, nobody should have had to fear raising prices, right?

    Ooops.

    Granted, it is stupid to half-deregulate a market and expect it to work like a market. But let me reiterate again: it's just like phone service or any other infrastructure-expensive utility. The bar to entry into the market and the lock in to a prevailing system is too high for power companies to become a truly free market.


    --
  • I realize that privacy is a very hot topic amongst the Slashdot crowd, but lets face it: the average Joe Sixpack computer user is your typical aliterate moron who gets all of his information about the world by watching the local news on television. He'd give graphic descriptions of his wife's nipples to the folks at Amazon (C) (R) (TM) for $1.50 off of his next order. People routinely put up with (pranks suggested during a previous story not withstanding) mountains of junk mail, annoying telemarketers calling during dinner, and those assholes who want you to "vote for them" by purchasing magazines they're selling door to door while you're trying to get your vital information about life on Earth by watching the local news.

    Let's face it: privacy isn't an issue. The only way it will become an issue is if it is featured in a story on the local news, in which case the subject will be exaggerated and misreported, and then the people will demand that the government outlaw the Internet. And then how will we stea^H^H^H^H sample music and download pr0n?

    The best solution is to just to turn off cookies, use a reasonably good spam filter, and accept the fact that 3 billion people will find out that you purchased that bootleg video of Natalie Portman eating hot grits.
  • It is true, that if you allocate any good, that the market cna find some kind of 'efficient' way of distributing that good. For example pollution credits. Of course, we all know that the market, given a free hand, will not necessarily distribute goods in a socially efficient manner. In California, many plants closed because they used up their pollution credits producing extra electricity for a market that would suck up as much as they put out. Now, nobody is profiting and electricity distributors are threatened with bankruptcy. A little government intervention could have forestalled this greed.

    Privacy is of value but it is also political. Surely the privacy of many can be protected if privacy is purely a commodity. However, the privacies that are most important- those of the people that would threaten the established order of things- are far less likely to be able to afford that protection.

    In a healthy "liberal" society, with at least the basic "freedom of opportunity" that substitutes for real egalitarianism in America, everyone must enjoy a sphere of confidentiality in which he or she can get honest advice and betray his or her real strengths and weaknesses. Only in privacy can you be youraself without fear of exposing your vulnerabilities.

  • From the article:
    The first set of proposals bears some resemblance to the now-infamous sexual harassment policy of Antioch College, which requires students to get explicit permission at every stage of sexual involvement. "May I kiss you? May I touch your breast? May I tell someone else your name and address?"
    How odd it is that they would base their proposal on what is arguably the laughing stock of sexual-harassment policies!

    Explicit permission at every step puts an enormous damper on sexual relations (and by extension, on commercial relations). The entire notion of contract presupposes the need to lubricate (no pun intended) financial dealings so that each new transaction is not as the first and most awkward. To throw out these fundamental principles would be to throw out the very foundations of our economy.

    Can you imagine what would happen if you had to get explicit permission for every time you wanted to use an article of commerce? You'd be spending so much time negotiating that you'd never get anything done. This is precisely the same criticism that is leveled against Antioch's policies, and it surprises me that they'd leave themselves open to it by design.

    Implicit permission is all that is needed, here. It's clear what people want, so just go on assumption and you'll be just fine. If there's a problem after the fact, then raise it in a civil suit the way other breaches of contract have been handled for the past millennium. There's no need to reinvent the wheel, here.
  • Whether you wish to call this irrationality or not is a semantic argument that is largely irrelvent to the underlying question.

    Any rational person (no matter what sort of economic system they prefer) would rather have more than less income if all else is the same. Ask any single person what would be the most rational choice, $4 or $5 all else being equal, and if they are rational, they'll choose $5 every time.

    Put them in a situation where they may get $5 by cooperating and $4 by thje every man for himself plan, and you'll see a lot of people walk away with $4. Contract law can come into play when there are just two people.

    The players (given enough time to prepare) could contract to cooperate with substantial damages for violating the agreement and both walk away with $5. That would be the rational thing to do in the absense of trust.

    Unfortunatly, it is quite difficult to sign a contract with millions of people, no matter how rational the idea might otherwise be. That's the problem. The system as a whole will always seek a local minimum even if the global minimum is in sight and is a considerably better solution. That is the tragedy of the commons.

    All of this does relate back to buying and selling privacy. Eventually, with millions of consumers and a much smaller number of businesses, choice will go away. You will either go along with the masses or become a hermit in the woods. This ties back to the reason the games I mentioned have the outcome that they do. The two players compete rather than cooperate because though 3 gold pieces beats 2.5, 2.5 beats none. The players make the cash grab in the first round because whatever they get looks better than the nothing they believe they'll get by waiting.

    Given a situation of 3 major credit cards, you will find 3 remarkably similar privacy policies. You will have not get the choice of more privacy vs. better interest rates, you'll get the choice of privacy or credit card.

  • This is an entirely seperate argument than the one presented, that "poor" people are essentially too desperate to make a rational decision. That said, I simply disagree with your premises and your conclusions.

    First, you presume that we CAN'T contract on the whole. Now maybe contracting is less efficient, but it is sufficiently efficient. Even if it's not, we could make a law that assures that is the ONLY way such an exchange would take place. If it's not sufficiently efficient, then the exchange of privacy would not happen ( at least no more so than if we were ban it outright ). Furthermore, the market tends to present solutions to these kinds of problems. For instance, rather than pooling a communal rainy day fund, we have these entities called insurance companies. Rather than contracting with the community as a whole, each person contracts with an entity that takes care of enforcement, payment, etc.

    Second, it's not proven that the system will "always" seek, as you call it, a local minimum in favor of a global minimum. It may tend to happen as the environment gets larger, but it's not assured. If it is, then how do you explain various strikes and protests without those binding contracts (i.e., mandatory union strikes)? How do you explain local shops banding together to clean up a parks in numerous cities, where the city itself has proven itself incapable? There are many other similar examples.

    Third, just to be clear, the tragedy of the commons is not that any particular individual is irrational. The individual is rational in the context of the situation of which he operates. When you refer to the "system", you're referring to the result of low coordination of that system.

    Third, you refer to the masses of individuals CHOOSING lack of privacy, all the while ignoring that it is a choice that the majority of them make independent of the community as a whole. When we're talking about sharing resources, those examples are relevant. But when we're talking about a choice that two parties make privately amongst themselves that has no direct negative bearing on any third party, it's largely immaterial.

    Now you might say that maybe if 9 in 10 of those individuals choose plan A (reduced privacy), then 1 in 10 individuals will probably has less choice in the matter. This may be true, but you can't get around the fact that each and every person saw it wiser to choose plan A. In essense, it's a vote, one that was just won by a landslide.

    But even there, if there is a sizable minority, there is a market for meeting those demands. That solution may not be perfect, but it's better than denying everyone else their say.

    Fourth, more empirically speaking, who says most people really prefer privacy? I'd argue from the evidence, that people consistently choose cheap and convenient over privacy.

    Fifth, I think you're largely mistaken if you think there ever was a viable choice between privacy and credit. The key word is credit, meaning that someone is giving you money before you pay them back with interest. People simply don't do this blind. They require information. The less information you give them, the less likely it is that you'll recieve credit, not because the credit card companies or banks are mean, or because of a "commons" situation, but rather because it's a necessary element of lending and credit. Risk and return are tied together at the hip. If you put the industry in the dark, you increase their risk in many different ways. The only way to obtain additional credit in this situation is to increase their return (read: your interest rate and/or penalties)
  • by pope nihil (85414) on Monday February 05, 2001 @06:37PM (#453856) Journal
    Fine. Let people trade their privacy for money. We do it already with these ad banners that send cookies that track what sites you visit and what ads you click. We do it with "free" internet service providers and "free" services like hotmail that require cookies and javascript and the latest browsers. Consumer profiling is BIG business because advertisers want to target the right audience. You know what? Fine. All I care about is the ability to opt out. Let me pay to NOT see ads. Let me pay to NOT be tracked and profiled. You know what? I have a policy of not doing business with anyone that can't win my business based on the merits of their product.
  • by DoorFrame (22108) on Monday February 05, 2001 @06:37PM (#453858) Homepage
    He addresses this in the article.

    Why do you assume the poor will be willing to trade their privacy for cheaper products? And why would you dream of prohibiting them from doing so if they wish. These people are poor, but they're still rational. If they want to trade some information about themselves for a $100 off a computer, great! Cheaper computers for them and a better educated society.

    To assume that you can make better decisions than someone who is poor, simply BECAUSE they are poor, is extraordinarily insulting.
  • by DoorFrame (22108) on Monday February 05, 2001 @06:40PM (#453860) Homepage
    The reason the power plants in California are in trouble is not because of anything EXCEPT too much government regulations. They were told that there was suddenly a free market for them to buy energy. This is good. However, they were told that they were not allowed to raise the price to consumers. This was bad.

    When there's a free market for you to buy your basic neccessities of production, but not a free market to sell your output, what chances do you have to not go bankrupt when you're operating costs rise?

    The fault for the situation in California rests entirely at the feet of the politicians who deregulated half, but not all, of the energy market. It was a foolish idea doomed to failure.
  • In the case of privacy the conflict is over a liberty of being able to keep private information. People want to keep it, however they need very complex and costly process of organizing a boycott to force companies to change their policies

    If you don't like a company's privacy policy, don't buy from them. Last time I checked, it was still possible to eek out a basic existence without buying anything online. When the day comes that you can't buy food without revealing your life's history, then I'll be worried. Until then, I have all the choice I need in a market system.

    Companies cannot force you to buy their products, and, likewise, you cannot force them to change their privacy policies. A natural balance between your interests and those of the company is reached through a market. Why should you have the right to dictate policy to a company (which is really just another group of individuals)? You vote with your dollar, and that's where your influence should end.
  • Let me put it to you this way, you have two seperate universes.

    In universe A, you have rich people and you have poor people. None of them are allowed sell their privacy--privacy is MANDATORY!

    In universe B, you have equally rich and poor people. The difference, of course, would be that the poor person now has a choice to make themselves a little bit richer by sacrificing a little bit of their privacy.

    Unless you presume that person irrational, that person is better off in universe B. If poor person makes a rational decision, the poor person is better off in his eyes. The key word being "better".

    Your problem is the poorness in the first place. What you fail to realize is that that poor person would be poor anyways. If the person's situation is so down and out as to have to "prostitute" his privacy, the thing that sucks is his poverty, not his choice. In other words, put bluntly, his life already sucks, but in universe B, his life sucks a little less.

    Anyways, you presume that this would break down along those lines. I simply don't see it that way. I'd be willing to sacrifice a little bit of my privacy for the right incentive, hell I already do, I'm sure you do too. Speaking for myself, it's not for want of money (I'd be considered rich by most anyone's definition), intelligence, education, etc. I don't see MANDATORY privacy as being a basic human right. In fact, I don't even see it as desirable.

    We can have RIGHTS without them being MANDATORY. We have the RIGHT to own land, but we can also sell it. We can OWN money, but we can sell it. We have freedom of speech, but we can sell some of it for a price. We have the right to liberty, but most every person willingly reports to a boss. This is not too dissimilar.

    Furthermore, I'd also like to add that people have been selling their privacy for so long. When you advertise your business, you're giving just a little bit of your privacy up. When you put your ad in the personals, same. And so on and so on.
  • Is this just a theoretical excercise? I suppose in a perfect free-market utopia corporations' infinite greed and desire to get away with as much as possible would be balanced by responsive demand. Buyers start to feel they're getting screwed, they go somewhere else. Fair enough, we're speaking utopia after all.

    However, things don't work that way at all, even in the bastion of free economy known as US of A (snicker, snicker). Troube is while corporations are perfectly willing to maximize their profits by any means thay can get away with (read: circumventing any protective legislation or customs), customers rarely act in their own best self-interest. Yes, the immediate benefits of their actions may be beneficial, but long term they harm the system in a slippery-slope kind of way. (As in, as immediate and short-term benefits are realized by succumbing to various conviniences and incentives, long-term prospects and choices for consumers as a whole worsen by eliminating or limiting real choice.) Would Microsoft exist in your utopia? Would it sell any software and would it get as powerful as it is? Would people still drink Coke by the gallons when it is obviously not in their short- and long-term financial and health self-interest? How can any purely free-market model account for real customer behaviour patterns? Conversely, if they do indeed are to act in their best interest, maximizing their purchasing power and influence, how do you propose they gather and process all the data necessary to make an informed decision to that effect? This system (as I see it) cannot work when decisions (initially minor, see slippery-slope) are not made by the consumers themselves, or without possessing full information. How would run-away corporations be checked in this environment? When consumers give up power by making uninformed decisions (that may or may not be in their best interest) who does that power go to? Are you assuming corporations will do 'what's right'?

    I dunno... I was anways buffled how anyone can honestly believe any economical extreme (libertarian free market or communist command economy (similar arguments can be made against that side as well)) can possibly work in the real world, with real people, real inequalities (of all kinds, real and abstract, innante and constructed) and somehow not lead to a contradiction.

  • Well, lately they've been paying between 30 cents/kWh and $1.00/kWh for spot-market power. I highly doubt you've ever paid close to that on one of your bills.

  • [..]These people are poor, but they're still rational. If they want to trade some information about themselves for a $100 off a computer, great! Cheaper computers for them and a better educated society

    I can assure you that many people that see opportunities to get more even with their idealistic upperclass neighbours will go to great lengths to do so. That doesn't have to do anything with poor or rich, but people will probably not really consider privacy a personal issue any longer when things are put into a commercial frame. This has to do with sense of honour, education and social acceptance, things which poor people often don't get as they "should".

    Think about the value of your privacy. Do you think it really means that much to the outside world ? What value could it have to middleman-society at all ? Virtually none. Unless there's room for exploitation, and this is where the idea imho doesn't cover ground. You may very well control one side of the transaction, but once you've put your trust in the other party, you're put to the mercy of that other party because it can do whatever it wants with your information. Again, in most cases, your information will be worthless, but it's typically the sensitive stuff that lends itself well to malice and relational havoc. There's only one party that can possibly be benefitted from here, and that is you. 100$ is peanuts. It lasts about a second, an hour, a year. Your privacy deal lasts forever. It shouldn't really work at all.

    I think it's typical for the current timeframe to see privacy or transactions thereof being described like they are products, without much regard to the intrinsic value they can hold to a person. For instance, once you turn privacy control into a free market game, there is new room for all sorts of new discrimination. There is room for downgrading customers or colleagues based on knowledge they can't even claim is there's any more.

    When I read something like this, I can't but think about the decadent period that led to the fall of the the glorious Roman empire.

  • by DoorFrame (22108) on Monday February 05, 2001 @06:42PM (#453880) Homepage
    Uh, I don't know if you actually read the article, or just skimmed for something to karma whore and quote, but that was the same point made by the author. He said that that proposal, made by someone else, was a BAD idea. He said that they shouldn't need to ask your permission every step of the way because you quite frankly granted them some permission by participating in the system at all.

    You should read the story before commenting on it.
  • That's the point of the article. You can decide who you do and who you do not do business with depending upon whether you agree or disagree with their privacy policy and their treatment of the information they hold about you. If there are lots of people like you, then sites will cater to you and not collect information.

    If, on the other hand, we all want free stuff and are willing to hand over our social security numbers to get free stuff, then you might have trouble finding your premium services online. And you know what, that's tough for you but good for society. The people are being provided with the services they want by the market, without help from the government and without help from any system besides the free market.

    This was a good article.
  • People are already selling their privacy, in the form of Giant food cards (and department store cards too I think). In exchange for discounts, you allow them to track what you buy and when, which is valuable demographic info. What do YOU buy at the same time as condoms?
  • yup. people use a lot of customercards. all my friends have'em. I have'em. There's no personal info given by me for getting the card, because stores are required by law to give you the card regardless wether you give the info or not. every once in a while we trade our cards, and I encourage everyone to do the same. Since the owner of the card changes, even demographics on cardnumbers are completely bogus. they just show changeing buying habits. poison the database, since it's of no use for you.
    I guess in the US stores CAN require that you fill in a name, address, shoesize, and favourite taste in flavoured condoms.

    //rdj
  • Explicit permission at every step puts an enormous damper on sexual relations (and by extension, on commercial relations). The entire notion of contract presupposes the need to lubricate (no pun intended) financial dealings so that each new transaction is not as the first and most awkward. To throw out these fundamental principles would be to throw out the very foundations of our economy.

    This is simply not true anymore. In the online world it is trivial to verify any particular user's exact preferences. What do you think all those checkboxes are when you register for anything on a website? Have you heard of CRM databases? Permission Marketing? All of these are based on the idea that it is now possible to give users the level of privacy and communication that they want, not what a company thinks they want. I can't see how this is a problem, or how it's going to cause the free market to come grinding to a halt.

    It's simply the flip side of the technologies which make it easier to reach users in the first place. Saying that there's no need to reinvent the wheel is silly when our means of communication have been turned upside down. There's a reason why we didn't need anti-spam devices, policies or legislation 10 years ago. If a company's retaining e-mail addresses, privacy preferences are simply another field in the database.

    FWIW, if you've got decent communication skills it's actually not that hard to make a verbal contract on the level of sexual intimacy you want with someone. It's been a staple of the S&M scene since its inception, apparently. And rather than being an "enormous damper", it's actually a great way to get laid because it shows that you care about what the other person thinks and feels, which is by far the sexiest thing. And it's obviously not that hard to ask for extensions to that permission in a sexy way. Try it sometime!

  • First, you presume that we CAN'T contract on the whole. Now maybe contracting is less efficient, but it is sufficiently efficient. Even if it's not, we could make a law that assures that is the ONLY way such an exchange would take place. If it's not sufficiently efficient, then the exchange of privacy would not happen.

    If we make a law that assures that is the only way such an exchange would take place, then we're not talking about a free market anymore. In fact, your arguing for my point.

    Second, it's not proven that the system will "always" seek, as you call it, a local minimum in favor of a global minimum. It may tend to happen as the environment gets larger, but it's not assured. If it is, then how do you explain various strikes and protests without those binding contracts (i.e., mandatory union strikes)? How do you explain local shops banding together to clean up a parks in numerous cities, where the city itself has proven itself incapable? There are many other similar examples.

    Sometimes, by luck, the local and global minimum coincide. In the case of strikes, the contract is social and does carry substantial penelties for violation (ranging from ostrisization and loss of benefits (in recent times) to being beaten to a pulp (earlier in the history of unions).

    Cleaning up parks has little to do with the discussion since it has none of the elements of the prisoner's dilemma or the tragedy of the commons. Cleaning up the park can happen even if 90% DON'T buy in.

    Now you might say that maybe if 9 in 10 of those individuals choose plan A (reduced privacy), then 1 in 10 individuals will probably has less choice in the matter. This may be true, but you can't get around the fact that each and every person saw it wiser to choose plan A. In essense, it's a vote, one that was just won by a landslide.

    Actually, I would argue that many of those people have no knowledge of making any choice regarding privacy. Most companies are very secretive about how they share personal information and with whom. Some deny any such sharing in the face of evidence to the contrary. I use variations on my name when I subscribe to magazines. Shortly after, I start getting junk mail addressed to that particular variant of my name when I never did before. Nowhere in the subscription card did they mention selling my name and address on a mailing list. The card listed the terms of the subscription. I pay $X and I get Y issues of the magazine. There was nothing about I pay $X and allow them to sell my name and address and I get Y issues. I have yet to see a magazine subscription card that makes any statement at all about privacy.

    I do not ignore that choices happen independant of the community as a whole. In fact, that's my point! That's THE problem.

    Now you might say that maybe if 9 in 10 of those individuals choose plan A (reduced privacy), then 1 in 10 individuals will probably has less choice in the matter. This may be true, but you can't get around the fact that each and every person saw it wiser to choose plan A. In essense, it's a vote, one that was just won by a landslide.

    I argue that it was Hobson's choice. They 'chose' to give up privacy in order to not become hermits in the woods living off the land. Some choice!

    But even there, if there is a sizable minority, there is a market for meeting those demands. That solution may not be perfect, but it's better than denying everyone else their say.

    I know plenty of people who value their privacy. There are plenty on /. Every few weeks, the news talks about corperate violations of privacy, so there must be some interest (even if the news is lowest common denominator TV at it's 'finest'). I don't see a lot of businesses making offerings catering to those who want their privacy respected. The closest I've seen is that mail order medical supplies commercial where they offer to ship in an unmarked box (but make no promises about sharing your info with other companies). How many do you see?

    Fourth, more empirically speaking, who says most people really prefer privacy? I'd argue from the evidence, that people consistently choose cheap and convenient over privacy.

    Once again, I argue that it's Hobson's choice. Very few people have enough income to support any other choice. I must admit that there are companies that respect privacy. Their only advertising is word of mouth at the exclusive country club. Many people can't even afford the attire necessary to enter the store and be recognized as a customer, much less the merchandise in the store.

    Fifth, I think you're largely mistaken if you think there ever was a viable choice between privacy and credit. The key word is credit, meaning that someone is giving you money before you pay them back with interest. People simply don't do this blind. They require information. The less information you give them, the less likely it is that you'll recieve credit, not because the credit card companies or banks are mean, or because of a "commons" situation, but rather because it's a necessary element of lending and credit. Risk and return are tied together at the hip. If you put the industry in the dark, you increase their risk in many different ways. The only way to obtain additional credit in this situation is to increase their return (read: your interest rate and/or penalties)

    Yes, they do need to know some of my personal information in order to manage risk. No, they don't have to share it with other corperations w/o my permission, yet that's exactly what they do. I have never seen a credit card offer that says something like "We need your personal information in order to extend credit, however, we will not under any circumstances share that information with a third party". You will notice that no permission is required to make inquiries into your credit history. It's treated as implicit. Furthermore, many lenders consider a 'large' number of inquiries into your credit (which they can and do find out about) to be an additional risk factor. Your only recourse is to forego a credit card. For that matter, the same applies to having a checking account.

  • Then the market isn't free, now is it? It's been hampered by government action.
    -russ
  • customers rarely act in their own best self-interest.

    If that's how you feel, then you must say the same thing about voters, so how can government action save you from market failure?
    -russ

  • Your example does not apply to one of a free market. You are elitist and dismissive of the people whom you wish to protect. Perhaps you should pay attention to their choices?
    -russ
  • There is no such thing as a mixed market. A socialist economy has no market. A capitalist economy can be hampered by government action; all of them are. That doesn't make the economy socialist.
    -russ
    p.s. at the local Wal*Mart, 16MB of CF is $38, 32MB of CF is $73. You can beat that price, but only by going to the web, and when you do, you don't pay any sales taxes to your local government, and you don't help hire local unskilled labor. Obviously you don't care about helping your local government, nor providing jobs for people who aren't as smart as you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 05, 2001 @06:51PM (#453904)
    After a pleasant evening with my buddy John...
    [john] Here are $10 for you, so you don't tell my wife Sarah where we went this evening.
    [me] ok.

    the next day...
    [sarah] So where did you and John go last night?
    [me] John gave me $10 to keep it shut.
    [sarah] Here are $11 for you.
    [me] Nude dancers

  • I don't know about you, but I consider privacy to be an important liberty.

    Agreed. But it's having the option of privacy, not guaranteed eternal anonymity in all cases. The right to privacy is important, but I should be free to choose when I exercise that right.

    "Selling" your private information in a reasoned and limited manner is not an erosion of your liberty, it is the practice of it.

There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it reluctantly. -- Publius Terentius Afer (Terence)

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