TOC Mediation in the face of facts on the ground
the Do-Not-Need-To-Track solution
Your Turn

December 4, 2012

In search of a global "Do Not Track" Internet standard, "some technology experts and privacy advocates have accused industry executives of stalling and acting in bad faith" (*). The latter have countered by "saying [privacy advocates'] efforts threaten to undermine an advertising ecosystem that fuels free online products and services". Natasha Singer must be in training for some future stint at the UNO.

The depth of distrust displayed by both parties in this "rancorous battle" evokes the intertwined fates of Israel and Palestine, does it not?

At the UNO General Assembly, "President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority [...] condemned what he called Israeli racism and colonialism" (**). "Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, [...] said he was concerned that the Palestinian Authority failed to recognize Israel for what it is". Ethan Bronner and Christine Hauser are well prepared to report on current efforts to prevent eprivacy privations.

If one puts aside the military asymmetric activities which bloody the Middle East, the two disputes share more than verbal rancor. As much as he would want to, President Mahmoud Abbas knows he cannot make the West Bank Israeli settlements disappear from the map. It is a similar illusion to hope targeted advertisers will countenance their own elimination. Intractability is for a great part due to the presence of "facts on the ground".

For if peace cannot clearly unburden the party affected by these facts, negotiations must drag on for ever, in the cherished hope of total victory.

Pity then "Peter Swire, a professor of law at Ohio State University and a former White House privacy official during the Clinton administration". He has accepted to become a mediator for the "Do Not Track" initiative, aiming "to give users choice about their Internet experience while also funding a useful Internet". As Middle East envoy, Tony Blair could not find more felicitous words. Yet is not Peter Swire slated to be found as impotent?

The power of ideology is to turn into facts the most abstract principle by rooting it into the very ground of our thoughts. Look at the freedom of the press. "Even as one winces at the lying and cheating, media excess is a price that has to be paid to preserve a fundamental pillar of democracy", writes Philip Stephens (***). For the party clever enough to peg its existence to their obdurate reality, facts on the ground make a perfect cover.

Freedom of the press is an offshoot of freedom of speech, a mantle in which Internet companies in the United States are prompt to wrap themselves. They reject any government oversight the better to protect their users against censorship, even if they live from violating the privacy of the same. Peter Swire must be well aware that such an accumulation of facts on the ground puts him between a rock and a hard place.

In such dire circumstances, a mediator has only four choices. Withdraw, denounce the facts or prettify them. The desert can be such a hard place, but see the colors in which the setting sun paints those rocks. Ahem! My readers hint I have shortchanged them. Right but what can they expect? In the desert, facing a hard rock, a successful mediator must model himself on Moses and work no less than the miracle at Massah and Meribah (1).

The facts on the ground are there to yield a solution, not to yield to it. The latter must flow from the very rock which seems to block its way.

In the case of the UK press, its civic service is indeed so sacred it should stand unstained by profit seeking. The humble suggestion I made a while ago is to force the media to separate privileged, non for profit investigations and proclamations from regulated, money making reporting. Such a structure would not be unheard of. Aren't electrical utilities often compelled to segregate any lucrative diversification from their public activities?

"To rinse the gutters of public life you need a gutter press", Boris Johnson said in another memorable phrase quoted by John F. Burns and Alan Cowell (****). Wont to speak from his gut, he wants the eye to get the gross gap which exists between the delivery of a public service and the untrammelled pursuit of private profit. By watching over errant British politicians, a Rupert Murdoch may legitimately acquire a hold over them. But the minute he trades it to benefit his media empire, whether to gain circulation or, indirectly, favorable laws, democracy decays into pronaocracy.

In the case of targeted advertising, I have outlined the remedy last month. Legitimize this activity by assessing a public tax on the use of personal, private information. Can advertisers claim they should pay no royalties on a resource they do not own? Isn't sharing the touch stone of our Information Age? Make this privacy tax sharply progressive on the total number of personal profiles under management. Can industry executives deny they create a risk to society which represents a diseconomy of scale? Isn't private data like money? Aren't data aggregators like bankers?

As for privacy advocates, I remind them nothing prevent the truly privacy conscious consumer, this rare species, to declare their willingness to manage their own confidential data so that it can be targeted without being disclosed to anyone but themselves. The required technology exists (2).

What would happen? Suddenly all parties would have an advantage to cooperate in order to reap this most American right, tax minimization.

Market forces would ensure the Internet infrastructure would quickly incorporate what amounts to a Do-Not-Need-To-Track technology. Out of the tax rebate created by progressivity, individual consumers would get paid to participate, yet advertisers would now pay much less and advertising networks would still be paid as indispensable ad market operators, while the Federal government would enjoy a growing revenue stream, even at the minimum rate assessed on for profit usage of a single profile.

May Peter Swire conform his staff to my advice. No doubt some readers are even more curious to know what I would tell Tony Blair if he called me. Beware, my expertise limited to eprivacy, I am no Thomas Friedman (3). If I were, I would assert that, with an appropriate multiplying factor, the sacred right of return of Palestinians displaced from Israel before 1967 should be made to match the right of staying of Israeli settlers in the West Bank since 1967. Would Palestine want to curtail its right of return? Would Israel want to abandon its settlements?

Soon the populations concerned would realize that the solution is to have neither one nor two states but three, with Jerusalem capital of a newly created Abrahamia, which both sides would revile at will and yet sooner not lose. If Belgium is still a country, there must be a reason, mustn't it?.

Peace among the People of the Book! Why do I find this flight of fancy more believable than achieving a lasting and just agreement for eprivacy?

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ....... Mediator Joins Contentious Effort to Add a 'Do-Not-Track' to Web Browsing, by Natasha Singer (New York Times) - November 29, 2012
  • (**) ..... U.N., in Blow to U.S., Heightens the Status of Palestine, by Ethan Bronner and Christine Hauser (New York Times) - November 30, 2012
  • (***) ... An opening gambit for a grand bargain with the press, by Philip Stephens (Financial Times) - November 30, 2012
  • (****) . British Lawmakers Warn Against Press Restrictions, by John F. Burns and Alan Cowell (New York Times) - November 29, 2012
  • (1) for more details, see Massah in the wikipedia
  • (2) for more details, see US Patents Number 6,092,197 and 7,945,954 and US Patent Application 2009/0076914. For an implementation, please contact ePrio Inc.
  • (3) for more details, see Thomas Friedman in the wikipedia
December 2012
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