In the past couple of months, the press has been busy dissecting privacy concerns related to online browsing activities. One can find numerous articles documenting how cookies are leveraged and deployed by website operators and ad networks in order to efficiently manage ads. We have seen articles alerting us to be vigilant on what we share about ourselves on the popular social networks, and to always assume the default privacy setting will be to allow access rather than to deny access. I am in complete agreement with the authors of these stories on social networks privacy settings, and will always review my settings upon learning about a new feature being deployed.
This past week a story broke concerning the Obama administration’s plan to add a privacy watchdog task force to help control the exploitation of consumer data being gathered on the internet. Throughout history we have experienced advances in communication networks and, one can argue, the increased quality of life they provide. Starting with the telegraph up to today’s networks, the entrepreneurial leaders that provided these innovations were rewarded with an initial competitive advantage. The “free for all” climates these communication innovations generated provided the spark to subsequent economic expansion. History has proven that eventually this “free for all” climate, results in monopolies, which are then regulated and ultimately broken up.
I look back to the late 1990s and realize we have seen a few search engines come and go, AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Lycos, and wonder how long before regulatory steps are taken to prevent Google from becoming a search monopoly, or Facebook from being ruled a social network monopoly or Amazon as an auction monopoly.