Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Websites: there oughta be a law

A list of web practices that I wish were outlawed:
  1. Data mining. There are far too many abuses possible when large dossiers are compiled on individuals. Easy marks for con games, blackmail victims, people with unpopular political views—you name it, they can find you. And everyone is vulnerable in some way, when the dossier is large enough; if they can't get you, they can get your friends. For the sake of individual freedom, I want to see the compilation of large numbers of dossiers by anyone outlawed.
  2. Internet stalking. This is what the big social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, and  does, whenever you visit a site that has their button on it, unguarded, it records your presence there. Ever had a scary ex? Suppose they worked for Google. Scared now? Likewise, I want to see this outlawed.
  3. Abuse of social media access by monopolists. The condition for socializing ought not be the rights to use what you say or your images in any way, or stalk you.
If a web site or, especially, a smartphone app asks you to accept a big long “agreement,” odds are it's a ripoff, either of your intellectual property or your personal data. This is most major corporate sites, alas. But it may also be your doctor's office.

A medical center I work with employs a major third-party service provider as their "secure" e-mail service. In its terms of service, it claims that data passed through it is not covered by HIPPA, the US medical privacy law. It claims the right to use your correspondence and records data in any way, though it does promise to conceal your name. Medical records are as individual as fingerprints, so one is no more anonymous than one is if one gives a photograph of oneself. And, finally, it uses web bugs to track your web activity. So this medical e-mail provider is compiling a dossier on you which it can sell in any way, it stalks you, and abuses social media access. I do not advise accepting the Terms of Service.

[Added] UPS now requires one to agree to a 79-page ToS document in order to track packages. Hmmm, guess I'll just wait for the packages to arrive. [Update 2014.03.09] This turns out not to be correct; you are shown the "agreement" when their web site gets confused. However, their subscription services require that you accept that agreement.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thoughts about Paul Krugman's remarks on the information economy

(Cross-posted from my comments at Paul Krugman's blog. These were approved, and you can read them, and perhaps see some followups.)

Paul Krugman:
What do I mean by the role of rents? Consider the changing identity of the most valuable company in America. For a long time, it was GM, then Exxon, then IBM. These were companies with huge visible production activities: GM had more than 400,000 employees, which was amazing when you consider that the overall national work force was much smaller than the one we have today, Exxon had oil refineries. IBM was an information technology company, but it still had many of the attributes of an old-style manufacturing giant, with many factories and a large, well-paid work force.
But now it’s Apple, which has hardly any employees and does hardly any manufacturing. The company tries, through fairly desperate PR efforts, to claim that it is indirectly responsible for lots of US jobs, but never mind. The reality is that the company is basically built around technology, design, and a brand identity.—
I am delighted to see you considering these issues. These are very important questions, and of great interest to writers, musicians, illustrators, publishers, and so on, as well as to media device manufacturers like Apple and Amazon.

Kraw… It is a half-truth to say that "Apple has hardly any employees and does hardly any manufacturing." Their subcontractors have many employees in China. In the long run, it doesn't seem likely that the brand will survive; touch-screen computing devices are becoming commodities and other firms can also hire good designers and marketers.

Apple stands in the relation to the various content producers—publishers, recording firms, television and movie producers, and so on—as NBC used to stand to RCA. NBC was founded by RCA as a way to sell radios and transmission equipment. Apple instead licenses content. Amazon, on the other hand, is following the Sarnoff model; it is becoming a publisher. It is also following the Walton model, and pressing hard on the price of its "suppliers;" if the Amazon model of publishing becomes the standard, very few professional writers will be able to make a living at it.

One especially significant area of products: applications, especially games. By and large, apps are not portable between platforms without considerable effort. It is apps that make the platform brands like iPad, PSP, and X-Box so strong.


No economic thoughts here, but perhaps some grist for the mill.