Thursday, May 27, 2010

For balance

I'm with Grahame Lynch and Stephen Conroy that the big "new economy" firms need to understand their role, function and responsibilities better.

But to be balanced I thought I'd link two items from The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) which is a US body that favours net neutrality and Government broadband programs. Basically it sounds like a Google/Facebbook kind of place.

In their first contribution they try to excuse Google over the WiFi fiasco because they had no intent to do harm. The question of intent is a murky one both legally and morally. For example, in provisions to criminalise certain anti-competitive practices there was much debate that for it to be a criminal act there had to be intent.

However, in the matter of death we actually have a whole category of crime for causing death without intent, called manslaughter. We even have people advocating that offence apply to a foetus.

The real issue with Google on this one doesn't seem to be just the offence, it is their reaction to the offence. They've just said "Oh sorry, but it wasn't that important anyway" rather than "Sorry. We know we need to review our whole project design specs to make sure an action like this is never repeated". That is the flavour of the Conroy criticism at Estimates - there is no real response from Google that reflects the magnitude of the act.

In the Facebook matter the ITIF response is to laud Facebook for its belated move to improve users privacy controls. Thetyy say in part;

...companies are responding appropriately to their customers' concerns about privacy. In this case, market and customer feedback are more effective tools for meeting consumer needs than heavy-handed privacy regulations that would only impede innovation.

I would normally agree and am a proud supporter of the principle of self-regulation. I am not, however, convinced that firms like Facebook get it yet. That's because this is a response to the market concern, not the process of embedding that concern into product design.

More importantly there remain questions over how users are encouraged to use sites. After all as Thaler and Susskind wrote in Nudge what the default option is is almost more important than what the range of options provided are.

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