posted Mar 14, 2001

High-tech titans put the squeeze on privacy regs Privacy from Companies3/14/2001; 11:45:29 AM 'Aiming to halt the advance of dozens of privacy bills in Congress and in state legislatures across the country, the group Monday went public with four industry-funded studies asserting that privacy legislation would cost consumers billions of dollars annually.' 'Led by the Online Privacy Alliance in Washington, the loosely organized campaign is attacking legislative proposals on three fronts: identifying expensive regulatory burdens, raising questions about how any U.S. Internet law would apply to non-Internet industries, and assuring lawmakers that privacy is best guarded by new technology, not new laws.'I won't simply claim these studies are fallacious (though the people conducting the study clearly said they had not considered all factors (specifically, the increase in spending due to increase in confidence, though who knows what else they left out?)), but I can't imagine taking them at face value. Aside from the fact that these studies were bought (why does anyone bother reporting on studies that reflect exactly what the people buying them wanted them to say? Only the opposite would be newsworthy), the results may still not mean anything. Regulation is always expensive. Cars would be thousands of dollars cheaper without regulation. This is not speculation, this is an observation; I've seen a car being produced for China that can be made and sold for a few hundred dollars. It's made out of wood and canvas and has the cheapest imaginable engine in it. The windshield wipers are used by hand. In a crash at an significant speed, it would provide no protection whatsoever. You can even make a case that the majority of a car's price is due to regulation (though it depends a lot on how you draw the lines). So... should we deregulate cars just because it's expensive? No, because the benefits of safe cars outweight the costs.The argument that "Privacy is too expensive" assumes that there is some definition of "too" expensive. Simply tossing about billions of dollars in expenses (chump change, really) is not sufficient to prove "too-expensiveness", especially in a study that doesn't consider all the variables. The real question is, "Is privacy worth the cost?", and I personally would say yes (assuming there is a cost, which I do not necessarily concede). (Granted, privacy isn't as directly a live-or-death matter as car safety... nevertheless we are talking about real harm to people.)Oh, and of course, to look at it another way, "If we aren't allowed to abuse our customer's sensibilities and privacy, then we may not be able to make as much money" is an extraordinarily greedy and childish argument.


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