Prison Time Is the Answer to Tech’s Privacy Crisis
The executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project lays out a strategy to regulate tech companies like Facebook
It’s just the “cost of doing business.” I first heard that phrase as we mulled over my client’s plea deal. Evidently, when you run a multinational company, you pay a lot of bills that would give the rest of us sticker shock. One of them was a multibillion-dollar fine for price-fixing.
I was just a few months out of Harvard Law, working at one of the top law firms in New York, and I felt like I was staring through the looking glass. I had naively assumed that these record penalties would stun my clients, but I was wrong. In the end, navigating antitrust violations was just another business negotiation.
Sound familiar? Facebook was hit with a $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month for mishandling user data — a decision that sent the company’s stock soaring, perhaps because Facebook anticipated the fine and budgeted against it months ago in its first-quarter earnings report.
With potential antitrust action against Facebook and other tech companies on the horizon, it may be worth thinking beyond money. One thing actually did keep my clients up at night — a strategy that had huge success in fighting price-fixing and that we may need now to combat the tech sector’s growing list of privacy abuses: jail time.
In a world where products are increasingly available for free, our privacy is the only measure of their true cost.
At its heart, antitrust law is a question of power. It’s the calculus of how the government can intervene just enough to make sure that large, established firms don’t use their sheer size to strangle infant competitors in the cradle. More simply, it’s about keeping the “free” in “free markets.” Lawmakers in the Gilded Age created the antitrust laws that we still enforce today, pushing back against the ever-present incentive to conspire and cheat consumers out of the benefits of competition: product variety, low prices, and, these days, privacy. But in a world where products are…