Thursday, May 28, 2009

Misplaced Regulatory Blame

The government makes a good target for the blame game. Recently a flurry articles were published "documenting" onerous government regulation. Over at the Technology Liberation Front (TLF) we have: "Privacy Regulation: Expensive and Ineffective", "Golden Age for Antitrust?", and "What the EU Doesn’t Get: Harming Competitors is Called Competition (and shouldn’t be illegal)" . Over at TechDirt we have: "More Privacy Laws Don't Mean More Privacy". My issue with these articles is that they simplistically regurgitate the mantra that government regulation is bad without even bothering to investigate if the government regulation was actually bad.

Two of the TLF articles dealt with a fine that the EU placed on Intel for alleged deceptive business practices. Braden Cox wrote that: "The European Commission is a loose cannon when it comes to antitrust and competition law." Unquestioned in the TLF articles is the issue of whether Intel did or did not pursue deceptive business practices. Even Ed Felten picked up on the concept that Intel may not be all that innocent: "European Antitrust Fines Against Intel: Possibly Justified".

Two articles dealt with the issue of "privacy". These posts were triggered by Lee Gomes writing in Forbes: "The Hidden Cost of Privacy". The concern with these posts is that the reader is lead to believe that companies are being unduly burdened with privacy regulations. The actual topic is NOT privacy regulation but the disclosure of a companies privacy policies. The companies are not being forced (against their will) to protect your privacy, they are simply being required to disclose their privacy practices. A big difference.

The vexing implications of these "blame government regulation" posts is the persistent refusal to acknowledge that companies should be held accountable for their willful actions. If Intel pursued deceptive business practices, they should be held accountable, but that question was not asked. If companies violate privacy laws, they should be identified and exposed, but that question was not asked. Before, blindly blaming government regulation for all our various ills, we need to question and examine what the responsible companies were doing.

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