Press-Republican

Read

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
Read
  • colin_read.jpg Good organizations lack drama

    Groups that accomplish their objectives do so with a minimum of distraction and politics, focusing instead on creativity and a dynamic vision, according to columnist Colin Read.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Parking fines a short-sighted policy

    Tourists should be encouraged to do business downtown without fear of getting tickets, according to columnist Colin Read.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Technical training a key part of education

    Recently honored, Champlain Valley Educational Services offers meaningful careers for those not heading for college, according to columnist Colin Read.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Constitution withstands test of time

    The nation's founding document is a delicate balance that we should continue to nurture, according to columnist Colin Read.

    July 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg This region helped shape a new nation

    As we celebrate our nation's history, we must also appreciate the key role the North Country played in the founding of two countries, according to columnist Colin Read.

    June 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Diversity of views a key to progress

    With today's mobile society and 24-hour media, like-minded people tend to congregate together stifling diversity of opinion, according to columnist Colin Read.

    June 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Local heros needed to inspire us all

    It takes individual talent and initiative to truly move a community forward to fulfill its economic destiny, according to columnist Colin Read.

    June 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Fee on carbon needed

    Creating incentives to curb emissions is critical to containing climate change, according to columnist Colin Read.

    May 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Governor inspires renewed shared-services effort

    Tax-cap plan has provided incentives for municipalities to get together to try and increase savings and efficiency, according to columnist Colin Read.

    May 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Pipeline issue has no simple answer

    If Alberta oil is not transported through Keystone, it will cause more pollution to send it to China, according to columnist Colin Read.

    May 11, 2014 1 Photo