A new paper shows how RTBs (Real Time Bidding) providers enable anyone to track anyone and anyone to get sensitive information about people’s medical history, opinions, and locations. The emphasis of the paper is on the national security implications, but it also demonstrates that waiting on regulation to advance innovation is a fools game.
Today, RTBs can and do sell any kind of information to anyone who wants it, including Russian and Chinese sources that are known to expose that information to their governments. And I do mean any information; the RTBs have entire categories like “Intelligence and counterterrorism” and “People who work in the Pentagon”. Some forms advertise that they can give you the movements of people’s children. The implications are clear: these compnaies are profiting off blackmail data. In fact, one example in the paper shows that a conservative group bought this data for the specific purpose fo trying to our priests who were gay and in fact did so.
That is terrible by itself, but correcting these privacy violations is going to be very, very difficult. The companies involved make enormous amounts of money on these programs, and this have enormous amounts of money to lobby congress. They have also sold their services to government agencies, so now they are enmeshed in the national security state and have people willing ot go to the mat for them. All of this happened because we listened to those who cried wolf about premature regulations stifling innovation.
Well, we got innovation. We got your medical information being sold. We got your location being sold. We got information that can identify you personally and who you meet with being sold. We got your political opinions and sexuality being sold. We got the concept of privacy destroyed with no debate or discussion. We got companies that brag about being able to track the location of your children. So much innovation that it would have been terrible to lose, wouldn’t it?
When people like Marc Andreesen whine about over-regulation or premature regulations this is what they are protecting: the right of companies to profit off the destruction of your life. Privacy regulations were dangerous because they were premature — why regulate before you know if any ham will be done? Because intelligent people could and did see these kinds of abuses coming. We don’t need to wait for the harm to manifest to protect against it. And now that business empires have been built on the harms, fighting against that money will be a difficult task. The harms and the money have been locked in by delaying regulations.
Regulations are what make an economy serve society, not the other way around. When people complain that regulations stifle innovation they should be ignored. If harm can be foreseen, then it can be prevented. The doyens of AI, for example, are not interested in advancing innovation to benefit society. they are interested in preventing regulations that would prevent them from more efficiently profiting from things like stalking people’s children. They arguments should be treated with contempt, and their systems regulated today, not in the by and by. We have already seen the harm that forbearance imposes on everyone not them.