Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Speaking of the Consumer

The Technology Liberation Front posted an article: "heading to FTC’s next “Exploring Privacy” workshop at Berkeley Law School". According the the FTC, "The Federal Trade Commission will host a series of day-long public roundtable discussions to explore the privacy challenges posed by the vast array of 21st century technology and business practices that collect and use consumer data." What is interesting are the background posts of Berin Szoka and Adam Thierer. Both profess that: "consumers are empowered with real privacy controls so they can make the privacy choices that are right for them, rather than a one-size-fits-all choice imposed by someone else." Therefore, regulation is unnecessary.

What's wrong with this? Despite the boisterous public claim that the consumer is somehow "empowered" there is virtually no mention of the consumer as having any rights whatsoever. Essentially, their thesis boils down to companies have a right to violate your privacy anyway manner that they wish. If you have an issue with that it is your responsibility to protect yourself. I would hardly call that empowerment.

I previously discussed this issue in Misplaced Regulatory Blame II. In that post, I wrote: "Similar to Mr. Gomes article both these articles fail to acknowledge that the right of privacy belongs to the "recipient" not the instigator. Since the free-market (especially Forbes) promotes the concept of self-responsibility; these articles - instead of lambasting regulation - should have demanded that companies act responsibility to protect privacy. ... What is ludicrous is that instead of demanding responsible corporate behavior, Mr. Baldwin advocates that people buy products to defend their privacy!!!! The obvious between the lines interpretation is that corporations have an unrighteous entitlement to invade your privacy. If you want to protect it, you need to pay-up or suffer the consequences. Sounds a bit like extortion."

It's unfortunate that both Berin and Adam, despite their rose colored assertions that the consumer is living in a technological utopia of unlimited choice and empowerment, seem to imply (through their silence) that the consumer has no rights. The consumer has rights, David Boaz on Libertarian concepts wrote "Individual Rights. Because individuals are moral agents, they have a right to be secure in their life, liberty, and property. These rights are not granted by government or by society; they are inherent in the nature of human beings. It is intuitively right that individuals enjoy the security of such rights; the burden of explanation should lie with those who would take rights away."

The obvious fact that this issue is surfacing as a regulatory concern with the FTC is anecdotal proof that the consumer feels that they are being unreasonably abused and are now pleading for regulatory intervention. Instead of protesting possible regulatory intervention, Berin and Adam, assuming that they actually believe in consumer rights, should be calling for the private sector to clean-up their act. After all, if you don't want regulation, a bit of self-control and responsible action helps.

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