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CONTACT: Amy Smorodin
November 10, 2009
(202) 289-8928
Further Regulation of Online Data Use &
Collection Could Harm Consumers

Berin Szoka Submits Comments for December FTC Privacy Roundtables

WASHINGTON D.C. - User empowerment, education, innovative self-regulation, and tougher restrictions on government access to consumer data are better alternative to increased government regulation of online data collection and use, argues Berin Szoka in written comments submitted to the Federal Trade Commission in advance of the FTC's Exploring Privacy December 7th roundtable.

In the comments, PFF Senior Fellow Szoka summarizes and submits a variety of PFF writings on privacy regulation and targeted advertising.  Szoka urges policymakers to consider both the inherently subjective nature of privacy and the many benefits that the free flow of information provides:

  • Privacy is "the subjective condition that people experience when they have power to control information about themselves and when they exercise that power consistent with their interests and values."  
  • As such, privacy is not a monolith but varies from user to user, from application to application and situation to situation.
  • There is no free lunch:  We cannot escape the trade-off between locking down information and the many benefits for consumers of the free flow of information.
  • In particular, tailored advertising offers significant benefits to users, including potentially enormous increases in funding for the publishers of ad-supported content and services, improved information about products in general, and lower prices and increased innovation throughout the economy.
  • Tailored advertising increases the effectiveness of speech of all kinds, whether the advertiser is "selling" products, services, ideas, political candidates or communities.

He also proposes four questions that policymakers should bear in mind when considering additional regulation of online data use & collection:

  • What exactly is the "harm" or market failure that requires government intervention? 
  • Are there "less restrictive" alternatives to regulation?  
  • Will regulation's costs outweigh its supposed benefits?
  • What is the appropriate legal standard for deciding whether further government intervention is required?

Szoka's comments are available on the PFF website.

The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.



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