It is no use saying it at the moment when “regulation” is
flavour of the month but it is still a fact: state regulation usually fails,
because the regulators tend to be short-sighted people who are always behind
That was true of the vast bureaucracy that had “oversight”
of the highly-regulated banking sector but which did nothing to prevent the bank
crisis – and it is doubly true of the much smaller bureaucracy that tries to
regulate abuse of the internet.
For example, pity anyone providing an internet service in
the UK over the last fortnight...
Two weeks ago, the British government was obliged – probably
with very little reluctance, it must be said – to enforce a European Union
directive ordering ISPs to keep records of all their customers’ internet
transactions for a year, allegedly, like all these things, “for security
This week, the same British government has been criticised
by the same European Union for not doing enough to clamp down on the sale of
records of their customers’ internet transactions by ISPs.
The European Union likes the idea of records being kept for
supposed security purposes but not for commercial purposes. Once again, it is
one rule for governments and another for everyone else.
However, this is not to support the sale of confidential
data by ISPs. This information is used in “behavioural targeting advertising”.
This technique, the most notorious
version of which is Phorm, enables advertisers to send advertisements to
individual ISP customers selected on the basis of the sites those customers have
If some businesses find this idea attractive, consider this:
if a potential customer visits your website in search of a particular product,
that fact may be sold to your competitor, who will then know that the customer
is interested in that product and will have the ability to send an appropriate
offer directly to the customer. The whole idea of Phorm is that those with it
will be able to steal customers from those without it, so that it becomes
One would have thought that the British authorities would
not have needed the European Union to tell them that this is wrong and that
they ought to stop it.
On the contrary, the British police came up with the truly
astonishing defence that if you click on to a website you have given your
“implied consent” to be monitored!
No doubt the real reason is that the police were probably
too busy to pursue the case – going about their appointed duties of shooting Brazilian
newspaper vendors to death, and trawling through our browsing histories
“for security purposes”.