Liveblog: Wrapping up

Published on

The three-hour hearing on Online Consumer Privacy has just come to a
close, but unfortunately nothing substantive has emerged. Senators
asked the two panels questions that were fed to them by their staff,
and, when responses came from Google & Facebook that were
conciliatory-sounding enough, the Senators refused, or perhaps more
likely did not know how, to ask follow-up questions that might have
actually taken us somewhere.

At the core of this problem is the fact that the Senators, and of course they can’t be blamed, are
not as technologically astute as the internet engineers that sat before
them today. And in that sense, the Committee members could not carry a
good question to its logical extension. The issue here isn’t that the
companies represented today–Google, Facebook, AT&T and Apple–are
necessarily all doing evil things that undermine consumer
privacy–because they aren’t–but rather that the Senators were unable
to take a valuable opportunity to gauge the industry’s mindset and
modus operandi such that an ultimate privacy bill is well-informed and
mutually beneficial to both consumers as well as companies like Apple.

Senators all shared the same sentiment–we like our privacy–but for
the most part were unable to ask questions that addressed the balancing
act between the potential upside of the internet for consumers and the
inherent risks involved. So instead, what we got today was one Senator
asserting that the companies should pay attention to consumers’
privacy, and the representatives saying that they agreed and were doing
the best they could, and then…the Senator moving on to her next
pre-written question.

This isn’t a problem that has an easy
solution–our Congressmen are incredibly busy and can’t necessarily
immerse themselves into all of the issues on their plate (a fact
reinforced by the poor Committee attendance during today’s
hearing)–but if a sound privacy bill is going to be passed, our
representatives on the relevant House and Senate committees will need
to know how to distinguish between companies that are crossing the
line–such as Google with its Wi-Spying activities–and other companies
that really are protecting our privacy. The way it sounded today, it
was too easy to believe that all of these companies genuinely had
consumer privacy as their first priority.

A humorous episode
occured when Chairman Rockefeller had inexplicable difficulty
navigating a two-step process on an iPhone that was thoroughly
explained by an Apple VP–but on reflection, it serves to illuminate
the disconnect between the folks who are setting out to shape the
privacy bill and an industry advocating against it.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

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