Silicon System of Selling Personal Information for Profit is Under Attack


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The cult of Silicon Valley reigns supreme in these times.  The moguls of Facebook, Google, Linked-In and the rest have become the 21st century of the auto barons of Detroit in the 20th.  They are at the center of the financial pages, fashion shows, and political pundit speculations.  They are worldwide ambassadors of the new American message of innovation and business prowess.  Recently Google officials were the first US corporate ambassadors visiting both Burma and North Korea with our new message of peace and prosperity.   The world is captivated by their tools, searching, posting, tweeting, and networking to create the coming paradigms of the future.

We love the fact that all of this is often free, not the hardware, like our computers, but we often lull ourselves into thinking the rest of it has no cost.   Why should we think about the business model that drives all of this, especially since that story is a less stylist and nostalgic story of the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue.    Monetizing these free and fun internet tools, as the Siliconers say, is all about advertising, and frankly, as too few realize, we pay for that with our privacy, sold to unknown bidders to try to sell us tons of stuff.

A coming struggle in the California legislature may bring this story more attention than Silicon Valley wants.  A bill by a Long Beach assembly woman would force, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal “internet companies, upon request, share with Californians personal information they have collected – including buying habits, physical location, and sexual orientation – and what they have passed on to third parties such as marketing companies, app makers, and other companies that collect and sell data.”

Various Silicon oriented industry groups are predictably saying that this will retard innovation, I guess for advertisers and their soap and suds companies, and of course will cost them more money.  European regulators already require a ton more disclosure about personal information kept by Google, Facebook, and the like.  Facebook when confronted by earlier investigations of how much they give over to their app folks, claimed they have limits, but of course without legislation like this, they are not required to disclose information about their “over sharing.”

The ACLU is all over this at least in California and has mobilized their members to write the companies and ask about their information.  Frankly, believing that California will bite the Silicon Valley hand that feeds it seems unrealistic, almost as unrealistic as believing that all of these modern toys are really free.  Other states need to take the lead on this issue.  Nonetheless it is one thing to pay the piper, and quite another to not even be allowed to know how much we are paying.

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