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Friday, August 23, 2019

A comment on This Week in Google 513

Was just listening to This Week in Google 513, "A Secret Route in Jersey" with a rather vehement discussion about a column about privacy called "The New Wilderness" which went off track a long way.  Was going to comment

Jeff Jarvis made a valid point which got lost in the shouting.  His original point was, as I heard it, we need to be very careful about how we regulate the handling of the vast amount of data we are allowing to be accumulated.  The argument devolved into an almost-shouting match, and the objections presented to Jeff's point amounted to claiming that he was arguing for not regulating the use of that data.  So then he had to devote time and energy to defending a stand he hadn't taken in the first place.

Should the capture and use of such data be regulated?  Probably, though I'm not sure what the right way would be, I'm sure there isn't a simple answer with no possible flaws.  Jeff's argument as I heard it  was partly about the baby and the bathwater.  Write your regulations too broadly and you lose what good might come from the existence of that data.  And what good will that be?  I don't know.  You don't either.  Neither does Jeff.  "Of what use is a newborn baby?"

Likewise, legislation written with a battleaxe can demolish elements of the free discussion to which we now have access.  It can get ugly and bloody, but muffled silence is not an improvement.  Google, Facebook, et al, are not the ideal custodians of public discourse.  But for now they're what we have.

And simply because legislation claims to be for protection of privacy or restriction of excessive power, that doesn't mean it is.  A solution that claims to protect doesn't always protect.  I saw an article the other day, mentioning how shocked the administrators of a school were to discover some first graders had taken a gun from an unlocked box in the school's administrative office -- likely put there for Protection.  "But it's for the children!"  Uh-huh.  Heard that song before.

My own belief is that there should be an open mechanism that allows communication among a few billion people worldwide.  I don't think it should be run by Mark Zuckerberg.  But the US Government wouldn't be my choice either.  I honestly couldn't tell you who should.

We don't want multi-billion-dollar multinationals censoring our speech.  But we have folks introducing laws requiring them to do so -- and the people introducing those laws are also people we don't want censoring our speech.  So they pass laws that allow them to do the censoring at one remove, in obscurity and with no accountability.

So, Professor Jarvis, you are correct.  You didn't offer a solution.  But you did clearly state what the solution is not.