I remember when I was in college, discussing what we’d do if we discovered we had a terminal disease. Being college students, there were lots of ways to maximize short-term fun before the disease ate you.
The game theory folks talk about “the long shadow of the future,” the idea that cooperation can be rewarded in the future, as a strong driver towards cooperative behavior. So what happens if you expect that your company will, over the next few years, be sued out of existence?
One valid answer is to maximize the cash extracted from your customers now, and damn the effects on the rest of the world. You might break laws in other countries. You might claim, under tenuous logic, that local regulations don’t apply to you. You should maximize short term profits over everything, because you may be shut down soon.
Now, I’m not privy to any secrets at Choicepoint. (Unlike Choicepoint, who is privy to secrets about me.) I have no idea if this is their strategy. But are their actions distinguishable from this?
Let’s close with a quote from Schneier:
ChoicePoint protects its data, but only to the extent that it values it. The hundreds of millions of people in ChoicePoint’s databases are not ChoicePoint’s customers. They have no power to switch credit agencies. They have no economic pressure that they can bring to bear on the problem. Maybe they should rename the company “NoChoicePoint.”