Archive for August, 2010

The U.S. Senate Dives Into Privacy Issues

For the US federal government, privacy rights on the Internet — or more precisely, control of personal information — is a thorny issue.

Like many aspects of tech policy, Washington looks at this issue through the prism of standing law, inherited from a time when the ability and motivation to harvest, store, examine, and sell this kind of information was very different. Current laws about privacy were driven by concerns raised by telephone and direct-mail solicitors, where opt-outs and “do not call lists” were big political winners.

And like many current controversies around the Internet, the issue of personal information control pits companies with different business models against each other. Most firms making money off of Internet advertising (which includes virtually all of the free Internet) want to be able to use personal information the better to monetize eyeballs; those who don’t rely on advertising have a continuum of interests depending on what they sell. The firms that sell subscription services can afford to be privacy hawks, but those that depend on repeat sales of small-ticket items, as Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) does, are dying for as much information about … Read the rest

In Defense of Bill Gates

If you want to understand why we haven’t made any measurable progress on energy and climate change for the last 30 years, there’s no better place to look than the visceral partisan reaction to Bill Gates’ recent call for major federal investment in energy innovation.

Gates has been speaking out publicly over the last few months–first in a blog post on his website, then in a talk at the TED conference, and now as part of the American Energy Innovation Council–for radical energy innovation to drive carbon emissions to zero. In a climate discourse dominated by targets and carbon caps, Gates has provided a refreshing and clear-eyed look at the first-order importance of direct public investment to develop clean, affordable technologies to replace fossil fuels on a global scale.

But proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished by both the right and the left, Gates was roundly criticized by partisans on both sides for speaking truthfully about the enormous climate and energy challenge.

On the left, environmental advocates attacked Gates for daring to suggest that innovation will be critical to dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recycling … Read the rest