The FTC Should Regulate Bots, Confirm Identity

astrovilla

tldr;

Protection from bots on the Internet is about Consumer Protection. Consumer Protection is the primary mission of the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission should regulate use of bots to impersonate humans, and ensure that any entity that represents a human being is validated as such. They can do this by supporting a Confirmed Identity initiative on social media sites.

We’re Winging Identity

We have to stop “winging it” when it comes to human identity, and we have to stop tolerating falsifying human identity. All of our values depend on this. No matter what color of the ideological spectrum you live in, if you can’t trust that the thing on the other end of the line is human, you’re truly cut off from reality – the only reality humans are built for: social reality.

Bots in social networks are programs run by humans that pretend to be fake human, posting and upvoting fake news and unearned advertisements. These bots are interfering with search engine results, propagating misinformation, and I believe they represent fraud against consumers. And who protects us from such fraud? The FTC. Asking the companies who run these networks to guarantee humanity of screennames when they are profiting from these false clicks is a non-starter. They will never do anything but provide lip service to policing their systems, or they will go semi-anonymous like Reddit.

Our Attention is the Only Thing We Have of Value

What is being stolen from us when false humans influence our ideas is the only thing humans have of value as consumers: our conscious attention. Whether it’s fake news, advertising, doing taxes or watching a movie with my kids, the full focus of my attention can only be on one thing at a time. Combine that with our limited time on the planet, and it’s pretty plain that your value to the species is how well your conscious attention can contribute to the economic benefit of others.

When something grabs our attention without providing value, it’s stealing from us – stealing our time. The opportunity cost of where you can focus your limited attention on this planet is almost infinite. It’s actually the whole rest of the economic system.

We must protect our time and attention above all.

Actually, that leads me to my second point. If a government cannot protect us, they are not worth being a government. Since my true economic value is the focus of my attention, if a government cannot protect that, it has failed to protect my assets.

Funny thing is, we actually have an organization designed to protect consumer rights and attention. Lots of them actually. But as an example of one, we could consider the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission.

According to the FTC website

All endorsements must reflect the honest experience or opinion of the endorser. Endorsements may not contain representations that would be deceptive, or could not be substantiated, if the advertiser made them directly.

They also state that advertising on the Internet is the same as any other ads – in other words, they claim jurisdiction on this issue. Additionally:

It would be deceptive for marketers to embed ads with so-called subliminal messages that could affect consumer behavior.

So by stopping subliminal ads, whether effective or not, the FTC has further staked a claim of protecting out attention itself.

(By the way, sorry for quoting their website instead of the relevant laws and regulations, but come on, that stuff is painful to read. Enjoy your work lawyers, I have to read software requirements and Jira tickets.)

But how will it do it? How will this underfunded govt agency possibly manage this? Start suing every site with bots?

They can’t. There is no way they have the technical expertise or legal or poltical wherewithal to approach this issue. But, given a new executive administration, the FTC might be able to support an industry inititive.

Instead of fighting this in court, what if the industry started a program in conjunction with the FTC called Confirmed Identity. This would be an opt-in program that would validate your identity for social media in the same way financial transactions are validated.

Consumers who choose to have Confirmed Identity on a site would go through a quick series of confirmation steps, which would include a monitored video conversation with someone who knows them along with confirmation of address and state identity. This extra step to confirm one’s identity would give the consumer a gold star on the site, a visable reminder that they are human beings.

And in the future, that will result in a more valuable attention commodity you can barter with.

If you don’t want to confirm your identity, that is your choice. But expect your voice to be drowned out amongst the bots. You will be choosing to be silent as real people filter you out.

And for those who would criticize this plan by saying some people don’t have identities, or those people aren’t helped by their states to solve this, my answer is clear: fix that problem. Everyone deserves a name, protection of their state, and the ability to live a life of meaning. This can be a forcing function to help that issue also. The FTC is tasked with helping all consumers last I checked.

Because if people are not willing to stand up for being human, for being real creatures that deserve respect as being known and knowable, then how can we know the real from the false? Any entity may be remote controlled ghosts. It is a reasonable request to prove you are real, and to have less volume on your voice if you do not.

This is Our Final Chance

If we don’t do this now, we’re going to miss the window of opportunity.

Unless we can verify human identity, we’re going to lose this battle to the human-controlled bots. And the 2016 election will be small potatoes to the chaos to come.

Painting by Simon Stålenhag

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