Using the Internet to Lower the New Car Haggling Hassle

[dropcap1]W[/dropcap1]e all love the smell of a new car, but hate the haggling element of the car buying process.  But now, new online tools and services are making it possible for you to buy a car online without doing the in-store haggle.

But, like the wine industry, the eye contacts industry, and the real-estate industry, entrenched legacy interests are trying to stop you from using the internet to save money and get better products.  But the irony is, the internet is actually helping car dealers make sales while helping consumers feel better about their purchase: a win-win.

Because of the internet more people have more access to more information than at any other time in history.  Now, instead of relying on a dealer to tell you the price, websites and services like Kbb.com, Edmunds.com, and TrueCar.com provide you with lots of information about the cost of a new car and recent car sales.  This makes you a more informed consumer when you buy a car.

This change of information asymmetry is great for you, but can scare some legacy interests.  Legacy interests, who are adverse to any change in the way they do business.

For example, from the earliest days of the automobile until now, haggling has been a fixture of the retail car buying experience.  Lengthy price negotiations where the information available to you, especially relating to price, came from a single source, the salesman you met on the lot.  This created an image of the car-buying process that persists in almost everyone’s head.  Eventually, a simple truth emerged; remove haggling from the equation, give you more information and price confidence, and a new era could be born.  A new era with positive benefits for you and the dealers.

Now, that era is upon us.  Consumers are turning to websites like TrueCar to help eliminate the hassle of the haggle. Read more

The Future of Online Services for Kids

Yesterday we filed comments on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) proposed changes to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).  Our comments advises the FTC about changes that could discourage the development of online services for kids.

So what is COPPA?  Well, COPPA regulates the online collection and use of information about a child (a child is anyone under 13).  While a noble goal, COPPA has unfortunately discouraged many services from developing appropriate content for kids.

That’s because COPPA exposes any online service for those under thirteen to potential legal liability.  As a result, many services forbid those under 13 from using their services. For example, YouTube forbids those under 13 from using its service.  Likewise, Pandora music service is only available to those over 13.

This past September, the FTC proposed changes to COPPA, expanding its scope and legal liability.  When we heard about the changes we worried about the effects.  CCOPPA current rules already discourage most online services from serving those under 13, so what will happen if the rules get tougher and the liability greater?  How many more sites will just avoid serving kids?

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The Data Commissioner Who Cried Wolf

In August, Ireland’s Data Protection (DPC) Commissioner Billy Hawks made headlines by airing a laundry list of potential Facebook privacy violations, including the creation of “shadow profiles” and the collection of information about non-Facebook users.

At the same time, the Irish Commissioner declared that his planned audit of Facebook’s privacy practices was, “likely to be the most detailed, challenging and intensive audit ever undertaken by his office.”  The announcement was good for generating headlines, but as the results of his audit show, the alarming headlines were unjustified and, in some cases, wrong.

Fast-forward to today’s news about the audit findings where the Commissioner concluded that, “The audit has found a positive approach and commitment on the part of Facebook Ireland to respecting the privacy rights of its users.”

Well, that conclusion was unexpectedly un-alarming.

Just like last month’s FTC consent agreement, Facebook emerged from an engagement with government auditors without dramatic revelations of plots to build dossiers on every person on the planet.

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Where is the Button to ‘Like’ Facebook’s Cookies?

In 2009, EPIC, a privacy group, filed a privacy complaint about Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  This prompted the FTC to announce last month an agreement where Facebook must create a comprehensive privacy program, delete content after termination of a user account, and do comprehensive privacy audits every two years.  If Facebook fails to comply, it faces millions of dollars in fines.

Unfortunately, after obtaining privacy sanctions against Facebook, EPIC announced today that it considered the agreement a “FAIL” and launched a campaign to demand additional sanctions on Facebook.

I visited EPIC’s site to learn more about their new demands.  EPIC demands the FTC to “prevent Facebook from secretly tracking users across the web.”  That sounds scary, but EPIC never explains what it means by “secret tracking.” I found only one reference to tracking, secret or otherwise, buried in a 2010 EPIC complaint about Facebook’s cookies.  So I can only assume that by “secret tracking” EPIC means Facebook reading their cookies when users visit other sites.  But it wasn’t until I thought more about these Facebook cookies that I realized why EPIC hid their explanation of “secret tracking.”

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A Golf Clap for the FTC and Facebook

We’re giving a polite “golf clap” for The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook on today’s announcement of a voluntary agreement designed to protect user privacy while allowing Facebook – and an entire ecosystem of online service providers – to continue innovating.

First off, it’s almost always better to get private industry and federal regulators to reach a mutual agreement on resolving complaints.  Far too often, the kneejerk response from regulators and elected officials is to call for new legislation.   And those new laws usually just restrain innovation by legitimate companies, while those intent on bad behavior ignore new laws just as they ignored the old laws.

It this case, the FTC and Facebook tackled a list of complaints that were raised by a small but media-savvy industry of professional privacy advocates.

In general, the 800 million users around the globe who joined Facebook do so in order to make their information more visible to public and to their network of friends. Read more

WSJ readers weigh-in: After seeing both sides, it’s a Landslide

Every once in a while, a rigorous debate will actually sway public opinion.

Yesterday,  the Wall Street Journal published an impressive special section on tech issues that featured arguments from both sides. And it included a debate over new sales tax requirements for online retailers.

As I described yesterday, The Journal also published survey results based on a poll conducted weeks earlier, so there were already over 2,000 votes (60%) for the position that retailers should have to collect sales tax for all states — even where they have no physical presence.

I was initially troubled that the survey results were compiled before readers had a chance to understand both sides of the argument. But then, within one day of seeing both sides presented, the poll results were reversed. Read more

Emotional Climate Change

Flashy newspaper headlines drive clicks but they can also mislead readers.

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project just released a study of teens’ use of social networks.  It was a joint project with the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), who featured the study at their annual conference in Washington.  Like all of Pew’s work, this study provides a deeply nuanced view of the subject, breaking down behaviors and identifying emerging trends.

At the FOSI conference yesterday, I thanked Pew for helping to describe what they call the “emotional climate” for teens using social networking.   But the media wants to write headlines about “emotional climate change” when it comes to meanness among teens – and then blame it on the Internet. Read more

Just in Time for Halloween: Privacy Advocates Say Cookies are Scary

Halloween is fast approaching and while that makes it a good time to reflect on the treats that internet cookies enable, privacy advocates seem fixated on the bad actors allegedly using cookies to play tricks.  The most recent example of this occurred yesterday morning at a press event on the collection of information through “cookies” and companies who read their cookies when you visit other webpages.

After two hours of discussion, there were examples of harms from data breaches, theft of data, and misuse of public information, all examples of tricks from bad actors.   But nowhere in the discussion were there examples of harm from cookies.

The more I learn about cookies, the more I see them as a treat — not a a trick.  Cookies are benign, have been around for years, and are beneficial to my Internet experience. Read more

Facebook’s Apps Platform: a $15 billion Dance Club for Users and Developers

Dance clubs provide a fantastic venue for both musicians and club-goers.  Musicians can show off new works and find new fans, while dancers groove to the music and make new friends.

 

It’s more than just fun.   A new study from the University of Maryland’s Center for Digital Innovation, Technology & Strategy (DIGITS) shows that today’s digital “dance clubs” can also generate jobs and some serious economic activity.  DIGITS analyzed Facebook’s apps platform and found that “the Facebook App Economy created 235,644 jobs, adding a value of $15.71 billion dollars to the U.S. economy.”

 

So how is Facebook’s apps platform like a dance club? Read more

Standing Shoulder-to-Shoulder with Self-Regulation

Last Friday NetChoice stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the existing industry self-regulation regarding location based services (LBS).  In doing so, we responded to the FCC’s call for comments on LBS.  In our comments we explained how:

 

  • Location based services benefit consumers and businesses;
  • Self-regulation is working;
  • Consumers already must affirmatively consent to most geo-location collection;
  • The FCC can assist the industry’s self-regulation program;
  • And consumer education efforts on privacy are already underway.

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