Pilant's Business Ethics

Business Ethics Blog

Tag: Senate

Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections
Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix Hammers Privacy Protections

Netflix now has the right to share your viewing habits – Salon.com

After nearly two years of intense lobbying, Netflix has won the reform it needs to integrate its services with Facebook. Ars Technica first reported that the Senate quietly passed a reform to the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) last week, giving video streaming companies the right to share your data for up to two years after asking for your permission once. (Mother Jones notes that “The Senate didn’t even hold a recorded vote: The bill was approved by unanimous consent”).

Netflix now has the right to share your viewing habits – Salon.com


This is a government subsidy to a business, in this case, a particular business. The act gives away a right to privacy with no return to the consumer.

Is this good business ethics? One of the first tests of ethics is the question, “Is it legal?” The “reform” makes what was previously illegal into a legal act. It’s also intensely profitable. This passes the sole test of Friedman’s code, “Does it enhance shareholder value?” Yes, it makes more money for the company. I would expect the company’s value to be enhanced.

But this is slicing good business ethics pretty thin. It’s legal and profitable. But so are a great many things that we can be ashamed of.

Is it bad business ethics? It takes a public good, privacy, and converts it to private profit. What did consumers gain from allowing Netflix to sell their information to other companies? That easy, they won the right to be specifically targeted in advertising. Their viewing habits can be used to get a handle on their political beliefs, whether they have children, etc.

It might be argued that the consumer has to give permission to access his records. A blanket right has been abolished and replaced with a private opt out clause. One of the things I have learned is that few of my students even though they are computer literate have any concept of how their data can be used against them. Considering that observation and the mass of e-mails we are bombarded with, I find it unlikely an informed decision is going to be made in many cases.

A company has been profited at a cost to the public interest. It is a government subsidy with all that implies. The company could have done better.

James Pilant

From around the Web –

From the web site, 33 Bits of Entropy: (This article highlights another important issue in online privacy. jp)

New lines will need to be drawn defining what is acceptable data-release policy, and in a way that takes into account the actual re-identification risk instead of relying on syntactic crutches such as removing “personally identifiable” information. Perhaps there will need to be a constant process of evaluating and responding to continuing improvements in re-identification algorithms.

Perhaps the ability of third parties to discover information about an individual’s movie rankings is not too disturbing, as movie rankings are not generally considered to be sensitive information. But because these same techniques can lead to the re-identification of data, far greater privacy concerns are implicated.

From the web site, Tech of the Hub:

Today, Netflix presented at the F8 conference to talk about their planned integration with Facebook. You can see what you friends are watching and they can see what you are watching on Facebook. Not only on a granular level, but Facebook will present what it finds to be interesting trends among your friends’ viewing habits. Mark Zukerberg’s example showed that four of his friends just watched movies staring Johnny Depp. Netflix will be integrating with both Facebook’s newly announced Timeline as well as their OpenGraph platform. Facebook will have similar integration with Hulu.

And, finally, from the web site, Addicting Info:

An archaic 1988 law, the Video Privacy Protection Act, currently prevents the sharing of your video watch lists, such as with services like Netflix or Hulu, on social media outlets such as Facebook or Google+. Earlier this month, the US Senate put through an upgrade to the bill to address this issue, to little notice. It was a minor correction to an old set of laws. But when the US House got ahold of it, they put forth some edits, which is where the problem begins.

These changes, as reported by the ACLU, divorces the bill from a larger set of laws, called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. In so doing they eliminated protections which were in place to require a warrant for accessing of cloud-based private electronic communications and other content, such as email, private social network posts, any information stored on cloud based servers. Instead, a subpoena is all that is required, a legal process but one which does not require the due diligence of a warrant, not even requiring an active investigation to acquire.

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Blanche Lincoln Returns Once More to Claim the Mantle of “Centrist”

She’s back. A sort of, kinda, maybe, at times, Democrat but more usually a saboteur of Democratic iniatiatives. She implies that she is a “centrist,” a good old-fashioned, common sense, middle of the roader (Did I get all of her usual adjectives in there? You can play a game with her writing and speaking and count how long it takes her to say “common sense.” It’s kind of fun.)

From the Huffington Post

Unrelenting partisanship can strangle our nation’s political process and divert our energies from building our economy. And in the midst of this year’s deficit debate, we’re seeing a great deal of that deleterious behavior playing out inside the Beltway.

         When adhering to a partisan mindset, lawmakers reject any ideas that originate from their opposition, regardless of merit. And the political welfare of our nation — which is increasingly comprised of independents who are practically and politically moderate problem solvers — suffers as a result.

         This partisanship has been evident in the current debate over federal regulations. Catering to their base, the administration has been resolute in its pursuit of aggressive, sometimes duplicitous, and often excessive regulatory agendas. And all of these, as we know, come with a hefty price tag — ill-timed as we continue to see stagnant job growth and unemployment numbers.

I had the pleasure of voting against Blanche Lincoln in both the primary and the general election. Her successful efforts to water down the provisions of the health care bill are not something I am liable to forget any time soon. She is one of the reasons, the huge 60 person Democratic majority in the Senate meant very little in practice.

She’s found a new perch at Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations. You can read that with total accuracy as small businesses for no regulations because that is what it means. You could say, “James, she says in the article that some regulations are necessary.” I don’t believe her for a moment. She was a Senator here for a long time and I was a citizen here for a long time. Her very occasional efforts at anything but total industry support, (remember her derivatives amendment when she was running in the Democratic primary?) disappeared as soon as politically possible.

I figured she would find a safe place to land after her defeat. I hate that she can do that. It’s not fair that when rejected by the public, politicians go on to much, much greater sums of money as lobbyists but that is the nature of the corrupt beast governing us today.

James Pilant


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Constitutional Convention?

We here in America should start practicing democracy instead of pretending. The government no longer works for human beings only for lobbyists and their employers.

When the American Government under the Articles of Confederation began to break down, the great men of the nation acted to save the country from dissolving into a dozen or so petty states.

We’re in the same situation now. We just don’t have any great men. Our current crop of politicians are contemptible. Would let a anyone involved in that disgrace of a “budget ceiling” negotiation work for you?

What should a constitutional convention do? Get rid of the Senate. The idea that the two Senators from North Dakota should have the same weight in national deliberations as the two Senators from California is bizarre and ridiculous. What’s more it allows a small minority to have veto power over the rest of the nation. That’s why we have farm supports that make no sense here financially while causing havoc overseas. You can’t make intelligent policy when a minority can derail intelligent action. Let’s have a single house legislature with the seats distributed by population. That’s democracy. Pretending that the states are actually independent countries is an idea the Civil War should have finished off for good.

The second thing we should do is get rid of the electoral college. Elect the President directly by the voters. Electing Presidents by states electoral votes is a formula for disaster. You get Presidents without actual majorities.

The third thing is to put the right to vote into the Bill of Rights. Every kind of shenanigans is now being employed and has been used throughout American history to keep people from voting. Let’s make sure everyone is on the same set of rules. It’s wrong to stop people from voting. Period.

The Constitution created a government divided in purpose to make oppression less likely. It wasn’t a bad idea but now it is no longer viable. The government and the those influencing it are more the enemies of the people than ever before, and because the government only sort of responds to the voters, that response is muted and ineffective. We need a government strong enough to resist large pressure from large economic organizations but weak enough to leave people individual rights.

To keep our rights, it is time to change the form of our government. Now.

James Pilant



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Senate blocks bill repealing $2B in oil tax breaks (via CBS News)

Once again we see who is important in Washington. Giant highly profitable oil companies get the help they want need while the public pays the full amount at the gas pump.

From the article at CBS News

“Symbolic votes like this that aim to do nothing but pit people against each other will only frustrate the public even more,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

“Americans really aren’t interested in scapegoats,” he continued. “They just want to pay less to fill up their cars. That’s why this Democratic bill to tax American energy is an affront to the American people.”

I can think of 2 billion reasons this is not a “symbolic” vote and if by pitting people against each other, you mean calling the multibillion dollar profiting oil companies being called to task for their cynical political machinations, pitting people against each other, you are a very cynical man.

Is it ethical to manipulate Congress for relief from taxes when you run an extremely profitable multi-national corporation? It is ethical to call your opponents Un-American for wanting fair taxation?

You do not have to do a deep analysis of the ethical components here. This is a tragedy for the American people that evades the word, theft, by a razor’s edge.

More significant is that both these oil companies and the congressmen protecting them can be found day after day preaching with complete and apparent total conviction the value and importance of free markets. But we see here the colossal hypocrisy, basically six large corporations dictating to a suppliant congress a vast competitive advantage over any competitors. What about the innovation and low prices that competition brings about? Where’s that?

I have been told I am shrill. Explain to me at a time when there are serious plans to limit or eliminate Medicare and Social Security, why these companies should be able to evade their taxes. Tell me. Apparently this nation deserves no tax money from corporations since we don’t provide laws, roads, education, or a horde of ships, tanks, and planes to defend their property. Yeah, I’m shrill. Isn’t someone supposed to look out for the citizens?

From time to time I explain these things to people and they ask me who they should vote for. I tell them honestly, “There is no one.” The only difference between the two parties is in the level of obedience that lobbyists can command. I believe the welfare of the American people figure at most peripherally in the affairs of our government.

James Pilant

Homeowners Betrayed

I have been accused of being shrill. Today is the day, I should tear the wallpaper off the walls in hot raging anger. The Senate passed a bill on the last day of the session by unanimous consent that essentially solves the banks’ mortgage foreclosure problems.

Have a read – (from Reuters)

The bill, passed without public debate in a way that even surprised its main sponsor, Republican Representative Robert Aderholt, requires courts to accept as valid document notarizations made out of state, making it harder to challenge the authenticity of foreclosure and other legal documents.

The timing raised eyebrows, coming during a rising furor over improper affidavits and other filings in foreclosure actions by large mortgage processors such as GMAC, JPMorgan and Bank of America.

Questions about improper notarizations have figured prominently in challenges to the validity of these court documents, and led to widespread halts of foreclosure proceedings.

The legislation could protect bank and mortgage processors from liability for false or improperly prepared documents.

Do we live in a nation where citizens matter? Hundreds of thousands of mortgages have been done without actual knowledge of the facts. This is not legal. But here comes Congress just when the crisis is beginning to develop. And Congress like the cavalry rides not to rescue the homeowners but to make it difficult or impossible for them to challenge inaccurate or false documents. It will also make it difficult or impossible to sue for redress by these simple Americans who lived their lives believing falsely they had a government that was concerned in some way about their rights.

It’s not law yet. It awaits that “stalwart defender” of the public, Barack Obama, to sign or veto. What do you bet?

This is incredible. The mortgage companies are caught committing essentially fraud on a massive scale at the very least lying to the court system not once but hundreds of thousands of times(probably several million times) and the government acts to legalize their acts just as the scandal is revealed.

I don’t know what to say. I am well aware that besides this frail web site, I have no influence. I want to go outside and scream. Doesn’t someone, anyone care about the homeowners who have been abused hundreds of thousands of times?

What do these huge accumulations of money have to do to get in trouble? Apparently there is nothing they can’t do. Apparently there is no line they can cross, that will cause our government to act against them.

Will there be any action taken? Will there be any outrage? Will there be any investigations and will they lead to any actual action?

Stay tuned. I’m not finished with this yet.

James Pilant

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