Thursday, May 2, 2013


 On more than one occasion, I have told my children there is no such thing as a free lunch.  In almost every case, they look at me quizzically and wonder what I mean.  For they have grown up during the era of the free lunch.  They have lived in the time of the Internet where the essence of their social lives, online lives, and academic lives has been achieved free of charge.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, along with Google, Bing and Yahoo, have always been available and free for their use.  Newspapers, magazines and other media struggle to develop a pay model which millenials will accept because study after study says they expect information to be free.  What they have totally missed is that while the service is predominantly free, it is so only because they have themselves become a commodity for sale and to be monetized.  Rather, information about them is the treasure which these sites are mining.

     While not telling you anything you do not know, the entire time you spend online someone is monitoring you and gleaning information about you...information which has a monetary value to everyone from marketers to the federal government.  The Wall Street Journal, and other publications, has documented the length to which Facebook or Google will go to find out anything and everything about you and then sell that information.  The information is so intimate, third parties can take this "anonymous" data and turn it into your name and address.  They can build social profiles which predict if you are gay or straight, male or female, married or single.  They are able to draw conclusions about your physical and mental health and possibly fetishes and kinks.  All of this information is worth billions to them and they do not want you to know how they gather it or what they will do with it.  Add to this tsunami of data, all the personal information received when you download, and use, apps from Apple or Google stores and you privacy becomes a transparent window through which strangers may look and observe you.

     Alarm bells are finally starting to go off.  Shouldn't you have a right to know what they are gathering and whom they are sharing it with?  Were you to truly discover how intrusive and comprehensive this privacy assault is; is it possible you might protest and demand to be left alone?  Should you at least have that option?

     California Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthall (D. Long Beach) thinks you have a right to know how your private information is being used online and whom it is shared with.  She has introduced legislation called the Right To Know Act, (AB 1291) and a who's who of giant tech companies is lining up to crush this idea as quickly as possible.  Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others are demanding Lowenthall drop her bill.  What are they afraid of?

     Already, a hearing on the bill has been postponed after heavy lobbying from Silicon Valley.  The chair of the committee says he is concerned the bill is too broad, or too widely constructed or might cost him some big political donations if he supports it.  While Google says its philosophy is to do no harm, and Mark Zuckerberg says he wants to change the world for the better, neither wants you to know they can only do so if you allow them to treat you as a commodity to be sold no differently than pork butts or corn futures.

     The American Civil Liberties Union is a co-sponsor of the Right To Know Act.  The ACLU says online services, computer apps, social networking sites and other online entities are capable of tracking people and their location, buying habits and favorite foods.  If the average person realizes how naked they are online, perhaps they will opt out and refuse to let this information be gathered and disseminated.  This is what the big boys are terrified might happen because it would destroy their model of profitability.

     The bill would be the first of its kind in the nation.  It would force companies to show a customer what information is gathered about them and who they share it with.  This would have to be done for free.

     The tech companies are screaming this would open them up to an avalanche of responses to requests for information and possibly to lawsuits.  They further contend a privacy law passed in 2005 already lets consumers ask about private information they have gathered.  Supporters of AB 1291 point out the 2005 bill was concerned mainly with telemarketing abuse so no company has to share any private information they have about you, or who they sell it to, unless it is used for direct marketing purposes.  (a huge, gaping, sucking loophole big enough to drive Rush Limbaugh through)  Plus Lowenthall says companies collect a raft of personal information the 2005 law doesn't even mention.

     If you would enjoy some irony, as Silicon Valley and the Chamber of Commerce (the most evil institution in the nation) scream and cry alligator tears about how onerous this bill would be, they already comply with similar provisions in the 27 countries which comprise the European Union.  A law like AB 1291 was passed by the Union and all tech companies say they are in compliance with it.  Yes, that's right, they have no problem complying with millions of European customers, but doing so in the U.S. would be catastrophic.  (what?)

     If you don't mind being cyberly strip searched every time you go online, then bend over and cough before you log on and ignore AB 1291.  If, however, your privacy is not for sale...if you do not wish nameless, faceless companies to know your health status or where you hang out...if you didn't log on for this and wish to assert your right to be left alone...then you need to contact your local assembly person or state senator and demand they support this modest bill.  At one time, the Robber Barons, (Huntington, Crocker, Stanford and Hopkins) controlled California and the California legislature until the people took back that power.  Now the new robber barons Brin, Zuckerberg, Gates and Pincus, want to again run roughshod over your rights, and they will succeed unless you actually oppose them.  Even if my children doubt it, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

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