I arrived at the Mayor’s office a bit early, announced myself and took a seat in the waiting room. I had only been there a minute or two when a lady came out, told me the Mayor would be with me soon, and asked me to fill out a form while I was waiting.
In those days the Mayor of Indianapolis was a guy named Richard Lugar. Lugar was an unusual mayor, to say the least. He’d been first in his class in high school and college, had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and was an Eagle Scout. He was as straight-laced and honest as a country parson. How he’d survived in politics was anybody’s guess.
One day I arrived at the MP station and saw a new announcement tacked up on the bulletin board. It was notifying everyone that, with the War in Vietnam winding down, nonessential personnel with only a few months left in the Army would be mustered out early. The Army needed to save money.
Just one more exciting episode from the 226th Military Police Company, and then I can move on to the main part of my story.
Towards the end of my checkered career in the Army I found myself stationed at Fort Benjamin Harrison, a large Army base located outside Indianapolis.
In the last few weeks the [FTC] has repeatedly changed policy direction without giving the public any real notice or right to be heard. Noah Phillips, FTC Commissioner
I ended last week’s post by mentioning that Francis Fukuyama has proposed a novel way to control Big Tech, using so-called “middleware” companies to break the FAANGs’ control over Internet content.
We are evaluating a variety of complaints about Big Tech to see whether our ramshackle antitrust laws represent an appropriate remedy. So far, we’ve learned that antitrust action is a clumsy approach at best. But let’s look at one more major complaint against Big Tech:
As I noted last week, virtually everywhere we go and everything we do is subject to surveillance by government and private citizens. And the person they are looking at is actually us, not some random number linked to our computers.
Internet privacy, by contrast, involves businesses following around HTTP cookies or similar data. The businesses – or, rather, computers owned by those businesses – don’t know those numbers are us, they’re just numbers.
Facebook (e.g.) might know that the computer embedded with certain cookies just bought a spatula, and Facebook (or, more likely, a business that buys information from Facebook) might try to sell a whisk to that computer. But it’s not us they know about, not our faces or our cars or our license numbers, who we’re with or what credit card we’re using.
Here, for example, is a cookie (from Wikipedia):
HTTP/1.0 200 OK Set-Cookie: LSID=DQAAAK…Eaem_vYg; Path=/accounts; Expires=Wed, 13 Jan 2021 22:23:01 GMT; Secure; HttpOnly Set-Cookie: HSID=AYQEVn…DKrdst; Domain=.foo.com; Path=/; Expires=Wed, 13 Jan 2021 22:23:01 GMT; HttpOnly Set-Cookie: SSID=Ap4P…GTEq; Domain=foo.com; Path=/; Expires=Wed, 13 Jan 2021 22:23:01 GMT; Secure; HttpOnly
If we thought that way too many antitrust laws and enforcements were ineffectual at best and counterproductive at worst, matters are about to become even more dreadful – most of the proposed enforcements will harm consumers without much denting the power of Big Tech.