Policing privacy on the Internet and Facebook
As a good rule of thumb, assume any information posted on social media will be harvested like a veal calf headed for sale on a digital town square.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission reminded us all of that pipeline in announcing it was looking into Facebook's new privacy policies.
Those polices - unveiled just before Labor Day weekend, when presumably few would be paying attention - made clear that Facebook considers signing up for its service is de-facto consent to resell users' data to advertisers.
The FTC, on the other hand, considers that a potential breach of a 2011 regulatory agreement, which requires Facebook to get explicit consent from users. Facebook, which has a troubling record of eroding privacy standards, looks like it tried to slip one past consumers.
Thank goodness someone is looking, because the vast majority of consumers are not. The boilerplate legalese of online contracts is scrolled past, in search of the quick "Agree" button.
Facebook isn't alone. Since 2011, Google, MySpace and Path social-networking sites all have settled FTC charges that the companies duped consumers regarding privacy policies.
A digital thumbprint is easily left but nearly impossible to erase.
It will get even more difficult to erase with advances in facial-recognition software, which suggest a future in which embarrassing "selfie" photos are instantly matched to LinkedIn business profiles and Facebook "likes" for lingerie manufacturers.
In a Slate essay, writer Amy Webb described her aversion to posting any pictures of her child. Doing so, Webb argues, "is essentially robbing her of a digital adulthood that's free of bias and presupposition."
That future is hypothetical. Facebook, and other social-media companies, can ensure a present modicum of privacy. Signing up for a Facebook account is not an invitation to harvest our lives for sale on the town square of digital advertising.
--The Seattle Times, Sept. 16
Chaos among House Republicans
The behavior of the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is simply bizarre. An institution with the power and authority to manage government finances and scrutinize the budget instead chooses to play dangerous fiscal games.
Friday's vote to continue the lazy sequestration funding bill if the U.S. Senate and President Obama agree to shut down the Affordable Care Act was just weird.
Scarier still, the federal government faces a mid-October deadline to adjust the borrowing limit so the country can continue to cover its debts and pay its bills.
The House appears intent on extending this game of budgetary chicken to risk a default by the United States.
Extensions of the debt limit have been routine for nearly a century as the central government maintains its responsibilities to its citizens, federal duties and domestic and foreign commitments.
"It is not in the best interest of the U.S. business community or American people to risk even a brief government shutdown that might trigger disruptive consequences or raise new policy uncertainties washing over the U.S. economy." A predictable Democratic outcry? No, that is the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, R. Bruce Josten.
Last March Congress adopted across-the-board spending cuts with no priorities or rankings. Every budget trimmed the same amount regardless of the role or function performed. That was a compromise to avoid another disaster. The pattern repeats itself.
This approach is a fraud, and it is cowardly and lazy. Let the GOP articulate a coherent list of budget priorities and hold the hearings to expose what needs to be done. Members of the Congress should perform the role the U.S. Constitution empowers them to do - and that they were elected - to carry out.
Can the government be a better steward of taxpayer dollars? Always. Do the work to make it happen, or step aside. Elect genuinely fiscally conservative Republicans to do the work.
What the country is witnessing is shameful. The economic dangers that lurk ahead are real and potentially devastating.
--The Seattle Times, Sept. 23