Tech Law Policy Blog Tracking the Most Important Developments and Research in Tech Law & Policy

Friday Links: Sludge and Ordeals

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Last month, US lawmakers proposed an Algorithmic Accountability Act.

The first rule of tech policy: Regulate harms, not technology. The former is hard, the latter is impossible.  The AAA purports to attempt to regulate algorithms for “accuracy, fairness, bias, discrimination, privacy and security.” Good luck with that. Sounds like a rather blunderbuss attempt at regulation, to put it mildly.

The always-brilliant Cass Sunstein on Sludge and Ordeals. “Sludge” is Nudge co-conspirator Richard Thaler’s term for needless paperwork that gums up a system.

I think where this applies most directly in the tech world is with terms of use and privacy policies. I remember reading a few years ago it would take 76 work days to read all the privacy policies of the sites the average person visits each year. But of course it’s impossible to say, because no one ever reads them.

There has been much hand-wringing over the need for greater privacy law protections, but disclosure as a remedy in the form of privacy policies is of limited consequence when the reality of privacy policies is that they are designed to appease regulators and to limit liability rather than to provide actual information to consumers.

Privacy policies are thus a particularly wasteful (and expensive) form of sludge.

Per Mike Masnick of TechDirt: “Content Moderation At Scale Is Impossible.” I think this should be presumed true until one of the large platforms provides credible evidence that they are capable of doing content moderation effectively without absurd results.

Related: Content moderation is broken. Let us count the ways.

Some might think this is tangential to the purpose of this blog, but I consider it a tech policy issue. Measles incidents are at a 25-year high. This is almost certainly happening because of systematic misinformation campaigns centered around vaccines. Before the days of the internet, crazy people and conspiracy theorists existed. They just weren’t as able to as easily and effectively come together to spread their misinformation and conspiracy theories. Now, they’re doing their damnedest to undo 230 years of progress with the world’s deadliest infectious diseases. Sigh.

Amazon dismisses the idea that robots will take over all warehouse jobs any time soon. I think it’s interesting how the people with the most information and competence on real-world automation practices are often the ones most often calling for caution on theories about how soon robots will replace human jobs.

Stewart Baker of Volokh Conspiracy on new blockchain token regulations and guidance from the SEC.  

Some significant fines issued by various European regulatory agencies under recently under the GDPR. One issued for “late deletion of telephone numbers.” Another levied for processing publicly available data without disclosure. Sheesh.

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