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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Corporate Liberalism at Microsoft

Via email from Joel Schlosberg. A socially responsible proposal from the selfless foks at Microsoft:

At Microsoft, we know that advances in technology bring enormous social and economic benefits - but only if people believe they can trust that technology. For example, recent surveys suggest that privacy concerns have caused some consumers to retreat from using the Internet for e-commerce.

We have been working to strengthen computer security on many fronts and to provide greater privacy protection through innovations such as our advanced spam filters, the Windows AntiSpyware tool, and our Phishing Filter. We have also been collaborating with government to bring anti-spam and anti-spyware enforcement lawsuits, and working with industry to develop privacy standards, strengthen self-regulation, and educate consumers.

As part of this comprehensive approach, we believe the United States now needs a broad, nationwide privacy law. Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith recently asked Congress to consider privacy legislation that would set a uniform standard for the collection, storage and use of personal information. He urged lawmakers to mandate greater transparency in the handling of personal data, give consumers more meaningful control over it, and require organizations to take steps to secure and protect it.

Congress has enacted privacy laws for specific industries, such as financial services and healthcare, and has included privacy provisions in laws on spam, telemarketing, and other issues. Since 2004, more than 20 states have passed financial privacy laws. Although such targeted laws are helpful in some cases, they create an increasingly complex patchwork of inconsistent rules that raise the costs of compliance, and they leave many gaps in privacy protection.

A strong federal law - developed in consultation with the states and with industry - would help assure consumers that legitimate organizations in every state and every industry are abiding by the same baseline privacy standard. This standard should apply to data collection electronically or on paper, because the risks to consumers are the same, regardless. To encourage interstate and global commerce, federal legislation should preempt state laws and harmonize as much as possible with the laws of other countries.


Here's what Joel had to say about it:

Now, why would the archetypal mega-corporation call for more and larger-scale corporate regulation?....
Hmmmm, well it so happens that this is at a time that Microsoft is facing increasing competition on key products due to its poor track record on security -- eg with the "new browser wars" where alternative browsers like Firefox (which recently passed 100 million downloads) and Opera are taking away market share from Microsoft's Internet Explorer, the first time this has happened since the original "browser wars" in the late 1990s, due to IE's poor security. Clearly, establishing a baseline of security adequate enough to reassure jittery consumers would decrease demand for competing products that perform above that baseline (and would make a higher standard the de facto baseline via competition). Also, it wouldn't hurt to move the costs of providing security onto the government.

And here's what I wrote about regulatory cartelization in Chapter Six of Studies in Mutualist Political Economy:

Any action by the state to impose a uniform standard of quality..., across the board, necessarily eliminates [it] as a competitive issue between firms. Thus, the industry is partially cartelized, to the very same extent that would have happened had all the firms in it adopted a uniform level of quality standards, and agreed to stop competing in that area. A regulation, in essence, is a state-enforced cartel in which the members agree to cease competing in a particular area of quality or safety, and instead agree on a uniform standard. And unlike non-state-enforced cartels, which are unstable, no member can seek an advantage by defecting.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Alberto said...

Debian is better than Microsoft. And LUG's could be structures similar to mutualist institutions as oposittion a corporate official software vendor support system.

November 26, 2005 10:42 AM  
Blogger Alberto said...

I found this article about mutualism and Internet.

November 26, 2005 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

Firefox kicks ass.

- Josh

p.s. happy thanksgiving, kev

November 26, 2005 5:24 PM  
Anonymous Adam said...

Kevin,

I think you're missing an important aspect of the story. Most privacy invasion takes place on top of corporate welfare, in the form of government-issued and authenticated identity documents. Without a social security number, tying records together is nearly impossible. Without government issued ID cards with your name and address, everyone can claim to be named George Bush, and tying records together is impossible. So the privacy invasions which take place are built on government support. Given that, it seems to make sense to regulate how the information which the government collects and authenticates is used.

November 27, 2005 9:16 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Alberto,

Thanks for the link to the Guardian story. I may be using it in a post soon. And I've wished for a long time that I'd set up with some Linux-based OS like Debian. When my contract with PeoplePC expires, I may make the switch, if importing old files isn't too much of a problem.

Josh,

I'm certainly pleased with my Firefox browser (especially when it keeps track of my passwords); not real thrilled about all the "page timed out" messages I get, though. Page loading is something they need to work on. And happy Turkey day to you, too.

Adam,

I don't entirely disagree in principle with what you're saying. But (stipulating that the SS number exists), the best way to prevent its abuse as a "consumer/debtor national ID" by banks and other private corporations is for the feds to go back to their original stated policy that the SS number will be used only for tracking SS accounts.

Hacking away at the branches of corporate data aggregation without "striking the root" of the government's ID system is a losing battle.

I think the MS press release was not so much interested in enforcing a higher level of privacy (after all, they're notorious for collaborating with the police state), as in enforcing a uniform standard that would remove it as a competitive issue while putting a government seal of approval on their product--much as the big meat packers did with the Meat Inspection Act.

I can almost guarantee that any government-sponsored industry standard for privacy won't impede data aggregation by the nice folks at Ft. Meade or in this week's version of TIA.

November 28, 2005 9:02 AM  

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