Friday, September 19, 2014

Terms of Service Subject to Change

It's no secret that I'm a long-time fan of eccentric Canadian industrial noise band Skinny Puppy. I hold Last Rights to be at least as good a studio release as The White Album. So when founding member cEvin Key all of a sudden showed up in my Facebook feed under his birth name of "Kevin Crompton" I was a little taken aback. I even thought for a moment that I'd unexpectedly made Internet acquaintance with a relative of friend of EE, GMU grad, and ethnic Canadian Eric Crampton.

Nope. It was a guy who's had a particular stage name since 1983 or so.

So, like many of us, cEvin signed up for a site that allows him to connect with fans and business partners and the like under a set of beliefs that presumably included the liberty to use his stage name where'er he shall roam. However, one of the riders in the service contract is that the terms and conditions are subject to change without notice.

The ultra-rational economist that still rattles around the fringes of my mind hollers, "the risk that he'd have to give up his stage name at some unspecified future date should have been priced in at the moment of the decision. He's got no legitimate complaint." But it seems to me that this is obtuse. Rational expectations in a game theoretical general equilibrium takes into account that the person on the other side of the exchange will behave, for lack of a better term, as a civilized person might. That is, in accordance with ordinary rules of conduct. It is not outrageous that a performer should expect to be able to identify with his adoring public using the only name they've known him by for the past three decades.

But perhaps you don't have much sympathy for a guy in a band whose music was used (without their consent) to torture prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Might you have a little bit more for political dissidents in oppressive regimes? How about whistleblowers facing sanctions from tyrants? Refugees?

There are any number of perfectly legitimate reasons to adopt a pseudonym. The relatively modest risk of social media vandalism is trivial next to the lethal threat posed by oppressive states. Non-anonymity service agreement clauses jeopardize the people who need whatever protection men and women of good conscience can provide. And an agreement that ignores this moral imperative is incrementally less euvoluntary than one that respects it.

I am cEvin Key. You are cEvin Key. We are cEvin Key.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?