With Americans facing petrol prices of $4 (around Rs170) a gallon, record home foreclosures and fears about unemployment, US presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama are increasing the focus on economic policy in their campaigns.
Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint.
For the most part, the positions of Republican McCain and Democrat Obama fall along traditional party lines: Obama leans more towards government involvement in the economy, while McCain’s proposals rely on private sector solutions.
For US trading partners such as China and India, the trade debate is of keen interest. “If one was to look purely from a trade and outsourcing perspective, McCain seems to be a better choice for India,” says Ravi Bapna, a professor at the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad. “But, when push comes to shove, even the Democrats, despite all their rhetoric during campaigning, will not be able to walk away from globalization. No US president can walk away from market-based mechanisms which are now so deeply embedded.”
“What are perhaps more important issues are geopolitical stability, the war in Iraq and how to get the US back to the intellectual standards that it once had and which have been eroded in recent years,” Bapna adds. “In that sense, Obama is much more of a dynamic personality who can really bring back the US’ intellectual place in the world.”
Rajesh Chakrabarti, assistant professor of finance at ISB, says the George Bush presidency was quite favourable for India. Chakrabarti spent nearly a decade at the Georgia Tech College of Management, and is thus keenly aware of both the US and Indian political processes and sensitivities.
“The (Bill) Clinton presidency was very good for India, too,” Chakrabarti adds. “Of course, it is difficult to estimate as to how much of that was because of the presidency or because of world events. If one looks back, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relationship between India and the US has warmed and improved almost continuously during both Republican and Democratic presidencies. The way in which the Republicans and the Democrats handle world affairs, especially in West Asia, could have an indirect impact on India. But, here also, I don’t see any major difference between the two in terms of new developments.”
Still, Chakrabarti says that he worries about the Democratic party’s trade stance. “In their election campaigns, the Democrats have been making noises about being more protectionist, less trade-oriented, reducing the flow of outsourcing, etc.,” he notes. “Whether it is rhetoric or whether they will actually implement it if they come to power is not very clear. I don’t really believe that they will in fact do any of this if they come to power. However, it seems on the face of it that the Republicans are better for India because of their open trade approach. McCain is probably a safer bet for India, in that not much is likely to change in terms of economic policies.”
“Traditionally, the Republicans have been more open and less restrictive in terms of trade agreements,” says Ashok Soota, executive chairman of Bangalore-based software consultancy MindTree Ltd. “Obama, on the other hand, has made some remarks which could be construed as somewhat negative, but that is more restricted to the Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement). My belief is that the forces of globalization are so strong that I don’t think anything fundamental will change with either of them... (However), I believe that we will not see the strong positive thrust that we got with Bush with either McCain or Obama.”
Privacy on the Internet and the ‘creepiness factor’
Visit Amazon.com to buy a book online, and your welcome page will include recommendations for other books you might enjoy — including the latest from your favourite authors — all based your history of purchases. Most customers appreciate these suggestions in much the same way they would recommendations by a local librarian.
But, what if you visited an investment website only to find advertising messages suggesting therapies for your recently diagnosed heart condition? Chances are that you would experience what Fran Maier calls the “creepiness factor” — a sense that someone has been snooping into a part of your life that should remain private.
Maier is executive director of TrustE, a non-profit that sets guidelines for online privacy and awards a seal of approval to companies that meet those guidelines. She was a speaker at the recent Supernova conference, an annual technology event in San Francisco organized by Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Kevin Werbach.
The creepiness factor is a risk inherent in so-called “behavioural targeting”, the practice of covertly observing a user’s behaviour on the Internet and compiling a personal profile based on interests and behaviour — websites visited, searches conducted, articles read, even emails written and received. Based on their profiles, users receive advertising targeted specifically at them, regardless of where they travel on the Internet.
“Everything we do online creates a transaction record, and all that data has some value,” says Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at BT Counterpane, a provider of enterprise security solutions. “As data storage and processing costs drop to virtually free, the data we would normally toss, we save instead.”
Some analysts claim Internet users generally don’t mind such collection and prefer to see ads that reflect their interests. Analysts also contend that privacy concerns are at least somewhat generational, with younger users more comfortable with data collection than older ones.
Yet Schneier, Maier and others argue that most people, whatever their age, don’t really understand just how much information is being collected and analysed, nor have they thought much about the possible negative implications of such activities such as the increased potential for cyber stalking and identify theft.
According to recent research by TrustE, most online consumers have a general understanding that their browsing information may be collected for advertising purposes. But, they don’t fully understand behavioural targeting and don’t like the idea that their browsing history is used to deliver specific advertising to them.
Paradoxically, nearly two-thirds would prefer to see ads only from advertisers they know and trust, which would, in fact, require online tracking. In a survey conducted by global researcher TNS — based on a poll of 1,015 Americans — a huge majority of participants (91%) say that given the opportunity, they would use online tools to control the tracking of their information.
Maier said the data gives “a solid indication that consumers want us to find a way to get them the advertising that is relevant to them. In order to do this, behavioural targeting is one of the most promising methods; but, at the very least, it has to be made more transparent, provide choices and deliver real value.”
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