I went to the FTC’s second privacy workshop yesterday in Berkeley, and found it a generally interesting and worthwhile event, although it did exhibit some of the familiar patterns. Privacy, like net neutrality, isn’t as much a coherent issue as a grab-bag of grievances about a number of loosely connected concerns. Privacy is even more diverse and more incoherent than NN, which is after all driven by the desire to preserve traditional features of the Internet. Privacy seeks to change Internet tradition, which has never had any meaningful privacy but has simply created a sufficiently strong illusion of anonymity to make some people think there’s privacy on the net.
So what you have in privacy is two major issues of totally different character: (1) the capture of fleeting personal information by various services; and (2) the building of databases of personal activity and the subsequent analysis, use, and sale of the information they contain. These issues have to be resolved against the background of the Internet’s defective security architecture and tradition of people using handles instead of real names. When people feel anonymous, they misbehave, which is why there’s no much theft and generally churlish behavior on the net.
Congress is looking into these issues as well, and toward that end has held several hearings. I’m attaching testimony I delivered at one of these last Spring for your enjoyment. It holds up pretty well.
Incidentally, ITIF filed comments with the FCC in the Open Internet rule-making:
The FCC should proceed with caution in conducting its inquiry into Open Internet rules, according to comments filed by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation today. All the evidence suggests that the Internet is thriving: network operators are investing and new applications, devices, services, and content are emerging at a dizzying rate. While there is a need to clarify the confused state of Internet regulation in the United States, there’s no compelling public interest for the FCC to adopt a stringent new regulatory framework. The Commission would do well to follow the example of fellow regulators in Canada and Europe who have recently concluded that the most sensible course for national regulators is to emphasize disclosure of terms of service and oversight of business and technical practices.
ITIF rejects the argument that the FCC lacks jurisdiction to regulate the Internet, but urges the Commission to carefully consider the evidence before enacting new regulations on Internet access services. The Internet is a complex “virtual network” designed to serve a variety of needs, and as such it does not readily lend itself to traditional telecom regulatory models. The Internet requires regulators to take a fresh approach. The first step for the Commission is to conduct a fair and probing analysis about how the Internet works today.
ITIF applauds the Commission for committing to an open process and feels that careful examination will lead to the conclusion that the Internet is fundamentally healthy.
The big issues here are that we’re not done with network engineering, nor are we done with developing the business models that make the most of network investments. So the companies who develop the insides of the Internet need to continue cooperating with the people who develop the outsides. The Verizon/Google, Comcast/BitTorrent and AT&T/Apple partnerships are instructive.
OK, this has nothing much to do with broadband, but it’s certainly politics. CNN has called the Massachusetts Senate race for Scott Brown. Curt Schilling hasn’t made any comment on the outcome yet.
GigaOm sponsored a conversation with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowki at their Intergalactic Headquarters in San Francisco today.
I asked the net neutrality question toward the end, and applauded the Chairman for the way he’s transformed the FCC. Genachowski brought some of his best staffers with him, and it was nice to meet and greet and share ideas. You have to admire anyone who can make such deep changes to a rather hidebound federal agency as quickly as Genachowski and staff have done.
The long-awaited video of the FCC’s December 10 workshop Review and Discussion of Broadband Deployment Research is finally on-line. This workshop featured discussions of Yochai Benkler’s controversial Berkman Center report on unbundled DSL and Bob Atkinson’s report on current broadband investment dynamics in the US. As the FCC put it:
As part of the Commission’s development of the National Broadband Plan, the Commission has requested two independent studies. The Commission asked Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society to conduct an expert review of existing literature and studies about broadband deployment and usage throughout the world. The Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (“CITI”), based at the Columbia Business School in New York, conducted an independent outside expert review of projected deployment of new and upgraded broadband networks.
Benkler’s report was very politely decimated by Tom Hazlett, an actual economist who knows a thing or two about how Benkler cooked the books, intentionally or by bungling, and the relevant comparisons for the US. One of the many problems with Benkler’s report is that he didn’t do what the FCC asked him to do, which was to simply review the literature on international policies. Instead, he and his Berkman colleagues tried to aggregate all the data into a giant meta-study. Benkler violated the FCC’s “no original research” rule, which should have been familiar to Benkler given his fascination with Wikipedia.