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For Privacy, “Where’s the Beef?’ becomes “Where’s the Harm?’

Remember that Wendy’s commercial asking, “Where’s the beef?” When it comes to proposals for new online privacy laws, we’ve been asking,”Where’s the harm?”

Today we put that question to FTC Chairman Leibowitz after he spoke to the Brookings Institute.  Leibowitz started his speech by reciting benefits of data collection and online advertising.  Then came the expected “But, ….”, where the Chairman said these benefits were offset because consumers don’t know that their data is being sold to marketers and data brokers.

That’s the best he could do for justifying new privacy laws?  That consumers don’t know how their online data is used to do advertising and marketing?  The collection and sharing of consumer data goes back decades, starting when we filled-out warranty registration cards for our new toasters and blenders.

So Carl stood up asked the Chairman his own version of “Where’s the Beef?”:

“Chairman, you said the harm to consumers is that they don’t know what happens to their data.  But consumers seem to be flocking to sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, instead of running away in fear.  Is there some data the FTC can reveal that links consumer privacy concerns to their abandonment of the Internet?   Where’s the Harm?”

But Chairman Leibowitz’s response did not cite any studies or stats about privacy concerns.  Instead, he talked about consumer concerns over data breaches — where bad actors break-in to company databases to steal credit card numbers.

Conflating data breaches with privacy is really just dodging the question.

Now, we all agree that data breach is bad for consumers, and it’s terrible for the companies and banks who pay most of the costs of credit card fraud.  But conflating data breaches with privacy is really just dodging the question.

So Steve went back with a challenge to this conflation of privacy with data breaches:

“That’s like saying the FTC should start regulating auto production because bad guys have been breaking into cars and stealing people’s stuff.”

The FTC isn’t giving us any satisfaction when asked for evidence of harm to justify new laws and regulation of online privacy.   It’s like that feeling you get when you pick up the bun on a fast-food burger, only to find a puny little patty.

Where’s the beef?