7.6.13

IT'S NOT WHAT YOU SAY, IT'S WHO YOU SAY IT TO.

Lynne Kiesling's "America's surveillance state: Can you hear me now?" links to several instructive sources on what metadata surveillance is all about.  Reason's Nick Gillespie offers responses to several simple arguments defenders of Our President, or of National Security, might offer.

I commend a point-counterpoint on surveillance activities by business of its consumers.  Slate's Amy Webb notes we consent to it all the time.  Reason's Declan McCullach suggests it's for the good.

There's a small part of both essays I'd like to expand upon.  Think about the canonical price-takers' market, which operates under conditions that can be as stringent as complete and perfect information.  Actually existing markets operate far from those conditions, although contemporary databases move them closer.  Here's Ms Webb, contemplating getting delayed with only rain clouds overhead. "I’d have been soaking wet, lost, and clutching a piece of notebook paper covered in illegible shopping lists and reminders."  Mr McCullach has a longer elaboration.
It's easy to complain about a subjective loss of privacy. It's more difficult to appreciate how information swapping accelerates economic activity. Like many other aspects of modern society, benefits are dispersed, amounting to a penny saved here or a dollar discounted there. But those sums add up quickly.

Markets function more efficiently when it costs little to identify and deliver the right product to the right consumer at the right time. Data collection and information sharing emerged not through chance but because they bring lower prices and more choices for consumers. The ability to identify customers who are not likely to pay their bills lets stores offer better deals to those people who will.
Tradeoffs, everywhere.

All the same, perhaps increased public awareness of governmental snooping will raise consciousness about corporate snooping.  Take those rewards cards.  Please.  A shopper who wishes to take advantage of all the offers all the stores offer has to schlep around a little card for each store and remember to scan it.  And it's annoying to have to play Twenty Questions at the checkout counter in order to make a small purchase.  It used to be that the weight of the currency and coin exceeded the weight of the Green Stamps.  Now the weight of the rewards cards exceeds the weight of the one debit card (which itself is probably supplying purchase tracking information to somebody.)

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