FCC to regulate the internet, but do we want regulation?

The FCC is proposing to regulate the internet, as it has regulated the phone network, so that they would be able to force internet providers to provide the entire internet. 

No matter how you feel about government regulations in general, the best thing to do whenever there is new regulations proposed is to determine why it's being proposed.  Then once you know have determined why, you can better decide if it is worth it.  I say worth it, because its always a cost to add regulation, so there is a basic math question of cost over benifit.  Government regulations, like the one that the FCC is now proposing, generally are created for three reasons.

The first is to help prevent abuse or harm to the public, like a financial regulation to prevent homeowners from being sold loans they can not afford to pay for.  The second is to regulate a market, like the home gas price regulation. Of course there are other reasons, like taxation in order to generate government incom, but since we are deciding if the reguation is worth it to us, let's focus on the first two.

Why regulate the internet?

The reason given by the FCC is to prevent internet service providers from harming consumers.  Commissioner Michael Copps of the FCC stated that he believes the internet needs regulation to help develop innovation.  The other reason, has to do with Comcast, and Net neutrality.  This is another attempt by the FCC to prevent Comcast from having its way.

How does this benefit us, and what does it cost.

The clear benefit is to stop comcast and other ISPs from dicing up the internet, and charging us ala cart to get services that we now have access to, such as YouTube and Pandora.  But what about the cost?  The internet is currently an open market, and it is very crowded with very large companies.  And currently when deciding between multiple ISPs, the only option is speed.  More upload and download speed is usually more expensive.

But what about the cost?  The cost is very hard to determine right now, but to many people, its scary.  They fear that this is just the beginning of the regulations, and they usually mention that this could allow the FCC to regulate internet content, say for preventing hate speech on the internet.  They could also add taxes for intenret use, they could force ISP's to service remote locations, costing them millions (something that would be passed on to conusmers), and the regulations itself might cost the ISPs to conform to them, and those costs would also be passed on to the consumers.

The takeaway

In the end, there no way to know today where this might go.  Currently we consumers are a the mercy of our ISP, but there are multiple choices for ISPs, and currently things are not so bad, and they are getting better with more options being created daily, such as WiMAX.

Since I am not sure the reasons are valid for the initial regulation, and I really can't say what the ultimate cost might be, this regulation is not something i have any interest in supporting.  I would like the FCC to stay out of my internet.

You don't have to cancel your Facebook account, Yet...

The Privacy Issue

Facebook's recent problems with privacy are many.  One specific problem that Facebook users need to address relates to the privacy of their opinion. Just how public our opinions are, was largely something we understood for a long time.  People understand that what they say in front of people, has an impact on how other people feel about them, and this has not changed.

But what has changed, and is surprising for many users of Facebook, is that their opinions, often being shared without their full understanding, are in full view of many more people then they might have thought.  This is because when users post status updates, links to interesting websites or movies and pictures to their accounts, they often expect the content and their opinions expressed in them, to remain private.  And by 'private', we mean 'only expressed to those people with whom they shared that item'.  What some may not fully understand is that once it has been posted to their wall, friends of THEIR friends may see it on Facebook, and even more of an issue is that those trusted friends may share it outside of Facebook with other individuals. (And it can be difficult to understand; moreover, Facebook can change their policy whenever they want to, and they do it often). 

Don't tell anyone, tell everyone

Most IT professionals already have experiences with this type of 'mock' privacy.  A digital image, and email or an opinion expressed in instant message to a specific someone; once released to the web, can end up anywhere with anyone, logged, indexed and shared, and its life expectancy far exceeds its non-digital counterpart.  We know this, because we have all heard stories of people being fired from their jobs because of email, instant messages, or even comments on Facebook.

One analogy that can be used to describe this type of privacy, is a dinner party. This is an everyday occurrence that people can understand, but keep in mind this is just an analogy and it does not describe how Facebook handles privacy.  

The idea is to think about how you would behave if you were at a dinner party with close friends, and a specific political or hot topic was brought up.  You might feel comfortable enough to express your opinion even if it differed from the rest of the people at the dinner, because they are your close friends, and you do not mind sharing your opinions, say about how you really feel about a specific company, with everyone.  

Now imagine you are sitting at another table the next day, this time, instead of your close friends, you are having a work dinner, and one person at the table works for the company that you were bashing the previous night.  We are all accustomed to how privacy works here, and we understand that what we said last night is protected in some way from this table, and tonight, you might not mention your opinions, because you know it might risk the relationship that your company has with their company.  It's important to note that in this analogy,  your opinion of the company does impact the work that your doing for that company in any way, but if he were to find out about it, your company might lose the business anyway.

This is all very well understood in the real world, but what about on Facebook?  Let's say a friend posted something about the BP oil spill, and you commented or 'liked' it.  Maybe he posted that the BP oil spill was a terrible thing, and he felt BP should be forced to close for what they had allowed to happen.  Now that you have commented, or 'liked' the post, your have, in effect made that opinion your own (even if you only agree with it in a small way.)  Let's further assume, another friend of his, comments on the post, or re-shares it, and finally let's assume they have a friend at BP, whom you work with, and now they read your comment, and the original comment.

This could easily lead to your company being affected by 'your' opinion.  And this is not clear to many Facebook users.  Your opinion travels, and becomes more public as it does, and unlike the dinner party, where a person at the table could share your opinion with that co-worker if that wanted to harm your relationship, on Facebook the information travels without any specific intent to share it. More people are just agreeing with the comment, they are not actually trying to share your opinion with more people, it's just how it works.  Also, unlike the dinner conversation, the online message is much easier to take out of context.  Just because you liked what someone posted, does not mean you want BP to be shut down. 

Privacy is changing

Recent events in Arizona, and all over the country  have made it clear that many more people today, are willing to share how they feel about controversial subjects in public.  Although some laws in the United States prevent people from photographing protests (Handschu Agreement), the laws do not prevent news coverage, nor do they prevent people from walking by and viewing the protesters.

People may still feel that they will not be singled out for sharing their opinions in public, or that this particular opinion shared at this particular venue will affect their lives OUTSIDE that venue, but is that really why they are willing to join the protests?   It may be that people are starting to feel that the topics are too important not to join the action, but it may also be because people feel their opinions are important, and they want them to be heard.
Stop sharing your opinion?

Quit Facebook, or quit being afraid of the opinions you share reaching people you hope it won't.  In my opinion it would be better, if we could all express our opinions, online and in real life, without fear of the wrong person finding out.  I am starting to think about a time where we share how we feel, and we all come to realize that it is normal for us to have friends and co-workers with opinions about topics that directly impact us, that do not align to how we feel, and that this is not a reason to discriminate or hate them.  This is how it actually is, we just don't talk about it.

Don't get me wrong, I do understand that this is a bit naive, but small steps in the right direction would be better for everyone.  Also understand that Facebook has more privacy issues then just opinion sharing, but if your quitting to hide your opinions, maybe it's time to just let the world know how you really feel.  Just don't tell everyone you're mad at BP.