Data Privacy and Going Nuts

Reprinted from Loose Change at

The SOPA and PIPA legislation was inevitable. I’ve been doing a broken-record whine on digital privacy for years and it’s finally coming to roost inside the Beltway. Although the current legislation attempts to block piracy, coming legislation will address today’s open market on personal data collection. I find the opposition to this legislation laughable, particularly because the big boys, not the digital purists who are wringing their hands over lack of full access to everything, have a lot to lose once their own piracy of personal data hits the docket.
Facebook, Google, Twitter—and literally anyone who thinks they can gather information about you and sell it to someone else—are in for a rude awakening as more personal financial records are hacked at companies like Zappos, e-Bay, and Amazon. No one is safe in the current environment, not the least of which naïve consumers like you and me, who don’t see what’s going on behind the “you can make money without doing evil” curtains of Google, FB, and the rest of data-crazy Silicon Valley.
I have a young colleague, very smart, very well-educated, who asks at every opportunity, “How can we gather data on this or that group of consumers?” He ignores the fact that there is an implied trust that exists in most ongoing relationships with consumers, one that is at high risk once companies compromise it by tracking purchasing behaviors and selling names without permission. My young friend contends: “It’s one of the most significant trends in the digital space—how can you not be wetting your pants over all the possibilities?!” No doubt, it’s a free ride for the moment, but coming legislation is going to gut this opportunity like a fishing guide at a skinning station on Lake Mille Lacs.
Our government needs to create legislation that protects our freedom without stealing it. Unlike the American Patriot Act that turned a protective shield into a smothering bureaucracy, there have to be ways for your and my personal information to be immune from every Tom, Dick, and Harry who wants to sell us something. What we don’t want to have happen is what the FDA is currently doing to deal with radical changes in nutrition.
The FDA has decided that walnuts should be classified as drugs and marketed as such. The company Diamond Nuts has been hyping the advantages of nuts, supported by research, stating that walnuts are really good for you. Walnuts provide preventative benefits against heart disease. The FDA says that constitutes a health claim, and Diamond must market walnuts under all the constraints that other drug makers operate.
Where exactly has the FDA had its head stuck, as our society has been turned upside down by the emphasis, need, and demand for better health? Since when did a nut need to be a drug in order to have health benefits? Lays Potato Chips declare themselves to be “heart healthy,” yet the FDA has yet to declare potato chips a drug. Breakfast cereals declare themselves to be “heart healthy,” yet the FDA has yet to put yummy little o’s in the same category with Lipitor. The burgeoning probiotic field is suffering a similar consequence. The FDA is judging them to be something other than they are, simply by virtue of the amount of probiotic in an FDA-sanctioned helping.
The FDA is in the dark ages on nutrition and doing its president no favors. It is discouraging good health practices in its antiquated and misguided approaches. Legislation better be underway soon to curb its inquisition on simple and innocuous health solutions like walnuts and probiotics, or the restrictions will pour water on a growing fire that could otherwise save billions in health care costs.

Editor’s Note: Gary Johnson is President of MSP Communications in Minneapolis, MN and authors the blog Loose Change.