TOC How to fight ID robber barons Your Turn

November 20, 2007

Being indicted is fast becoming the norm for bigger than life sports figures. Duff Wilson and Michael S. Schmidt (*) detail why Barry Bonds may want a bit of privacy nowadays. Yet, following George Vecsey's analysis (**), there could be a lesson for us in this recent development.

Sports and the study of the Information Age may seem at first strange bedfellows. But downplay the physical side and sports is all about truth extensions (are you calling me a cheater?), personal data rights (whose are my statistics?) and market fixing (you, scum bag, scalp tickets, I, legitimately enjoy benign monopoly power), all important aspects to master if one wants to promote privacy..

One must stress that Barry Bonds is not taken to task for having enhanced his performances with banned substances. He is indicted for something much more serious, i.e. lying to a grand jury and obstructing justice. In fact George Vecsey suggests that Barry Bonds had little to fear from the law until he allegedly lied to avoid unveiling a shameful truth. Shame of course is anathema for public stars who live by brand alone.

Corporations, being brands bearers, behave no differently than stars. As long as no light is shed on their abuse of individuals' data rights, they can collect as much confidential information as they need to gorge themselves at the trough of personalized advertising. But what if they were required to tell the consumer exactly how much is known about him or her? "Tracking the trackers" is the measure I call on the FTC to adopt (1). Chances are corporations would wish they could be less than forthcoming lest oblivious consumers open their eyes and band together to demand action.

Were a corporation to behave like Barry Bonds is accused to have done, it would delay the risk to its image but it would also become much easier to prosecute. Huge consumer databases are hard to hide for ever. A single discrepancy between a consumer profile as recorded internally for ad targeting purposes and the copy provided at his or her request to the consumer concerned would be proof solid of malfeasance.

Time is limited though. Today personalized advertising is barely starting despite the announcements of Google, Verizon, Myspace, and Facebook, to give a few names. But if regulators accept a Munich on privacy, very soon the personalized advertising industry will become as entrenched as the credit report bureaux. First they take our personal data. Then they sell it to all comers without our knowledge and authorization, abetting ID theft. Finally they turn this unfortunate consequence into a protection racket under cover of pronaocracy.

News on this front are as dismal as ever. Last February I showed the fallacy of ID theft prevention services such as Trusted ID. Now, in his most recent review (***), Brad Stone relays that one founder of another such company, LifeLock, "has a criminal past". Saddest of all however, Brad Stone points out that some of the best venture capitalists do not hesitate to bankroll such endeavors despite the fact a law from the US Congress to protect privacy would ruin it overnight. So the best minds are betting pronaocracy, the government of the people by the lobbies for the corporate interests, is here to stay. If they have not read my latest Halloween story, who can blame them?

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ........... Bonds Charged With Perjury in Steroids Case, by Duff Wilson and Michael S. Schmidt (New York Times) - November 16, 2007
  • (**) ........ The Truth Could Have Set Bonds Free, by George Vecsey (New York Times) - November 16, 2007
  • (***) ...... In ID Theft, Some Victims See Opportunity, by Brad Stone (New York Times) - November 16, 2007
  • (1) see the comments to the Federal Trade Commission I sent in response to its public inquiry on "Ehavioral Advertising"
November 2007
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