Europe’s constitutional literalism

Posted: November 5th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Economics | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Some frustrated words about the state of European political economy:

What we have, in other words, is a meta-debate about whether policy options are permissible, instead of a debate about whether they are sound. A debate in which what is permissible is defined narrowly, as whatever is specifically ‘foreseen’ in documents written years ago, instead of broadly, as whatever those documents do not explicitly forbid. And a debate in which it is hard to avoid the conclusion that policy options are being construed as impossible because they are politically unpalatable to the people who would have to carry them out.

More here.

First Thoughts on the Eurozone Summit

Posted: October 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Economics | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Burning a bit of midnight oil – a post up at Foreign Exchange on the eurozone summit and its results. Really short version: ‘It is hard not to see a game of hot potato at play here which eventually has to come back to the ECB.’

Read the whole post here.

Too Little Too Late

Posted: November 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Data, Journalism, Technology | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

Regulators in the US, UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada and the European Commission are finally getting serious about privacy. First, there’s the bevy of cases and crackdowns recently introduced against Google’s Street View. Secondly, there’s the EC’s new privacy proposal, mandating that in the future companies ask such consent for all the data they take, and (more radically) make it possible for users to have it deleted at any time. They’re calling this the ‘right to be forgotten.’ [A direct response to Eben Moglen, perhaps?]

This is comforting news for those of us who have been talking about data and digital rights for some time, to be sure. But I am wondering it’s ultimately too little too late.

See, most of the major holders of user data online are–or are close to becoming–monopolies within their niche: Google in search and advertising, Facebook in social, etc. And it seems to me that the history of monopolies is that once they get in place, it’s very difficult, legally, to break them up and almost impossible to muster the political will for radically restricting their business practices when a massive majority of the populace are their customers. [Can you see I’ve been reading Tim Wu?] That’s one reason that I’ve been arguing for two years that the way to best Google on privacy was to take it to task on antitrust issues early on, before it became unbeatable.

But given we haven’t done that, it now seems to me that the best possible scenario is [and I can’t believe I’m saying this] NOT to sue Google’s more offensive services out of existence, or to try and take it apart, but to essentially acknowledge it as a legitimate monopoly, and then slap it with a huge list of monopolist’s burdens: forbid it from further M&A activity, say, forbid them from collecting things like payload data, and mandate that all data-collecting services become voluntary, not at the individual level, because that’s now untenable, but at the municipal level. If the majority of a town’s population votes to be mapped, Google can photograph in the town. I think the municipal level is basically the smallest level that is still feasible, and the largest level that is still democratic. Is this a crazy idea?

As for the right to be forgotten, I regard it as pretty sound when I think of individuals and companies like Google or Facebook, but I am less convinced about how it might extend to other types of websites. Jeff Jarvis has correctly pointed out that a very broad reading of such a clause could lead to the idea that people can demand takedowns of news stories about them. Which is something that doesn’t make any sense to me, not least because news coverage is NOT something you consent to have written about you. It is not data YOU give away (and therefore own) but data which we as a society have decided can be collected involuntarily so long as you have the right to correct the record, and to extract a pound of flesh when the journalist is wrong. I’m inclined to say that the right to be forgotten should apply to everything except IRS and other federally mandated disclosures, and stories about you in the press. But I must admit that my sense of surety about these issues has declined the more I learn about them, so, please, sound off.

Chat with Andris Piebalgs

Posted: September 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Economics, Foreign Policy, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

My post at Foreign Exchange today is an interview with Andris Piebalgs, the European Commissioner for Development. An excerpt:

Some of your member states have expressed support for a financial transactions tax as a source of funding. What is the Commission’s view of that?

It’s very clear that official aid will need money beyond .7, and then on top of that aid we will need to raise funds for a climate change pledge. We need to start thinking as though at the end of the day somebody will count the money and if you haven’t delivered, you will be responsible for the misery in the world.

Yes, the tax is logical. Why? We tax everything else. All activities are suffering from taxation. Technically, though, it should be difficult to administer. It needs global governance, and in that, it is a test case for the G20. If they can’t do this, it is on them to propose an alternative. We could tax air tickets, say. Much simpler, but much less popular.”

I really enjoyed the whole chat, and encourage you to go read it.