January 12, 2014

Intrusions abound from government, business

Economists hold dear a few tenets including the following: Those affected the most have the best incentive to make important decisions on their own behalf, markets work well unless they are plagued by one of myriad market failures, well-defined property rights are important and more and better information invariably improves decision-making.

To economists, power ought to be diffused, while, to political scientists, politics is the art of the use of power.

Our recent national debate about freedom of information challenges all these tenets.

The Internet provides us with more information, for free, than we could have ever imagined. Of course, we get what we pay for. While we have access to amazing and bewildering amounts of data and information, the Internet also has access to data about us. Even unsophisticated observers could tell an interesting story if only they could view the surfing habits, the emails, the financial interactions, the purchases and the uploads and downloads over just a week.

Those who are watching us are hardly casual observers, though.

Companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo employ some of the most sophisticated data miners in the world to sift through our data and use it to direct ads, services and products to us. They sell us, and they make tens of billions of dollars by doing so. If I state in an email I am going to Savannah for a vacation, the next thing I find above my emails or alongside web pages are car rental prices in Georgia.

We tolerate this in return for free email, calendars, cloud storage and myriad other perks. This compact between Google and us requires an amount of trust on our part that few contemplate.

I am hardly a conspiracy theorist, but I harken back to the story of HAL, the computer that took over a manned spacecraft in 2001, A Space Odyssey. That movie captured our fear that IBM (just one letter up in the alphabet for each character in HAL) would someday monopolize information and control humans.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • ouellette.jpg Web doctor always gets it right

    I have access to the collected medical knowledge of all recorded history at my fingertips, columnist Steve Ouellette writes.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Airport projects can benefit local economy

    Using a local workforce keeps wages and spending in the community if it can be done in a cost-effective manner, according to columnist Colin Read.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Gast_Richard.jpg Producers can recycle tubing

    Project allows maple-syrup makers to conveniently dispose of their used tubing in an environmentally friendly way, according to columnist Richard Gast.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Easter with doubters and the 'nones'

    Should more pastors ask this blunt question: "Do you really believe Jesus was raised from the dead?" wonders religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Black_Peter_2014_cropped.jpg Canadiens are Canada's team

    The National Hockey League playoffs are underway, and for Canadiens fans, many of whom likely reside in the Montreal "suburb" of Plattsburgh, it is a time of hope and joy.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • little_mug.jpg There's no saw like an old saw Kaye and I laughed ourselves silly the other day as we tried to top each other with our own sayings from childhood, columnist Gordie Little writes.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Denenberg_Stu1.jpg Privacy concerns make a comeback

    There's a growing concern amongst the millennials, columnist Stu Denenberg writes.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • paul_grasso.jpg Several options exist for downtown

    Pedestrian mall just one idea that could be good for city's economic future, according to columnist Paul Grasso.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Government can't create success on its own

    It takes a grass-roots community effort of people working together to assure future accomplishment, according to columnist Colin Read.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hagar_mug1.jpg Farmers strive for sustainability

    Conserving the land and assuring long-term profitability are two of the key goals for farmers these days, according to columnist Peter Hagar.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

Peter Black: Canadian Dispatch

Lois Clermont, Editor

Cornell Cooperative Extension
Richard Gast: Cornell Ag Extension

Bob Grady

Guest Columns
Peter Hagar: Cornell Ag Connection

Health Advice

Ray Johnson: Climate Science
Gordie Little: Small Talk

Terry Mattingly: On Religion

Steve Ouellette: You Had To Ask

Colin Read: Everybody's Business

Pinch of Time