Last week, Senators John Kerry and John McCain introduced the “Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act”, claiming that internet privacy is a “fundamental right of American citizens.” I thought fundamental rights were in the Bill of Rights. I didn’t see this one there, so I’m going to make this the “Boring, But Important” section on my FBN show this week. (Thursday at 10pm ET – “Privacy or Secrecy?”)
What are they talking about? Well, they’re mostly worried about internet companies that can track websites you visit, what products you buy, whatever sort of information you fill out and then use that information to help advertisers target their ads more effectively. I understand how this creeps out some people. I was creeped out myself when Reason magazine sent me this issue in the mail:
But of course they know where I am. They sent the magazine there! Internet tracking is more threatening, because insurance companies and employers might learn things about you that you don’t want them to know.
Like, what if an insurance company sees your Facebook posting on a new burger joint you like? Or if a prospective employer is spooked by wild party photos friends of yours posted?
This “bill of rights” would impose a slew of new regulatory rules, restricting when companies can access this kind of information. It would also limit how they can use your internet behavior to target advertising to consumers.
That sounded reasonable to me until I realized that what helps most of the internet remain “free of charge” is that many content-driven sites operate on advertising revenue and this sort of targeted advertising brings twice the return as ordinary advertising. An MIT Study found after a similar regulation passed in Europe, “advertising effectiveness decreased 65%." If the bill becomes law, you’ll probably see a lot of website erect “pay-walls” like the New York Times did recently, requiring paid subscriptions to gain access.
Worse, though, is the gall that Senators Kerry and McCain have to call this a “bill of rights” when they explicitly exempt the federal government from these new rules. So, you have a “fundamental right” to privacy from data collection by private companies, but not from snooping by your government.