WELCOME to Connected Rights, your weekly stroll down the poorly-lit lanes of digital rights.
THE MEDIA NEEDS TO TRACK YOU TO SURVIVE, according to an open letter sent to EU lawmakers by a host of news publishers, including Der Spiegel, Le Monde, the Financial Times and the Guardian: http://bit.ly/2qA3P0W. So what’s all this about then?
The issue here is the EU’s new “e-Privacy” regulation, which will revise longstanding rules that (among other things) force websites to ask users if they’re cool with being tracked by cookies. According to the European Commission’s proposal, people should be able to flip a switch in their browser that tells websites they don’t want to be tracked – kind of like the global “Do Not Track” initiative that failed because websites ignored it (see last week’s Connected Rights), except with legal weight behind it.
If that happens, according to the publishers, all hell will break loose. “Individual news organisations would be unable to provide readers with personalised content and marketing, or serve relevant digital advertising within their environments,” they warned, arguing that too much power would go into the hands of the browser companies (i.e. Google, Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla), Google and Facebook would get an even bigger share of advertisers’ expenditure, and traditional news organisations would find it even harder to compete with them.
The publishers do have a point, in that they are desperately reliant on advertising revenue, which they maximise by being part of the online surveillance economy. But if someone doesn’t want to be tracked, then they should be able to say so and have their wishes respected. With the rise of ad-blockers accompanying the development of tougher privacy legislation, it’s inevitable that publishers will need to switch to alternative funding sources, most likely subscriptions, or perhaps just ads that don’t spy on readers. Surveillance-based advertising is the wrong horse to be backing, even when you’re desperate.
WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR FACEBOOK ACCOUNT when you die? The grieving parents of a German girl, who died under a Berlin U-bahn train five years ago, wanted Facebook to grant them full access to her account so they could check her chat messages for clues that might help explain her death. This morning, a Berlin appeals court said Facebook didn’t have to do this: http://bbc.in/2sdCRxv.
The court didn’t decide the question of whether the parents could “inherit” the girl’s account, but they said German privacy law made it impossible to hand over access to her Facebook chat records – because the people with whom the girl had been chatting had not given their consent. There could be no happy outcome to this case, though it does provide a rare example of Facebook relying on rather than fighting privacy laws.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION wants US federal authorities to be able to hack into drones that might pose a threat, so that they can track and research what they’re up to, or even hijack them or bring them down. According to Buzzfeed, the bill is needed because “current privacy protection laws technically prevent the government from interfering with drones”: http://bzfd.it/2slwkzS
SHOULD YOU BE ABLE to use your phone’s internet connection to get your laptop online? It’s a pretty common practice that’s technically known as “tethering”, and mobile operators don’t like it because they’d rather sell you two connections than one. The EU’s new(ish) net neutrality legislation, which says people can use any device they like to access their internet connections, should allow people to tether their laptops to their phone. However, operators are still trying their luck. In the Netherlands, operator Tele2 forbids tethering in its “fair use” policy, and legal experts say it’s breaking the law. The country’s regulator may have to decide who’s in the right here: http://bit.ly/2rRjUDw
CHINA HAS DELAYED part of a controversial new cybersecurity law that forces companies to store the personal data of its citizens on Chinese soil. This is known as “data localisation” and the tech industry hates it, because companies find it cheaper and easier to store people’s data all over the world. While countries such as Russia have introduced data localisation laws to ostensibly protect their citizens’from foreign spies, the idea really just gives governments better access to their citizens’ information, and an easier way to control what they do online, even when they’re using foreign services.
China’s “cyberspace administration” has decided that companies should have an 18-month grace period to comply with the new requirement, which takes effect from tomorrow. So they’ll have until the end of 2018 to build or rent Chinese datacentre space, in order to keep operating in the lucrative market: http://bit.ly/2slYPxy
CONSUMER RIGHTS ONLINE often don’t match those offline, particularly where “free” online services (i.e. those that make money off your data) are concerned. The European Commission wants to change that.
It said this week that it’s thinking of extending EU consumer protection laws to ensure that people get good information on their rights before they sign up to services where they pay with their data, and also that they get the right to withdraw from those contracts. People buying stuff on online marketplaces should also be “informed whether they are buying from a professional trader or another consumer and whether they benefit from consumer protection rules”, the Commission said: http://bit.ly/2sgjbbB
IF YOUR INFORMATION GETS HACKED, how long before someone tries to use it? As little as nine minutes, according to research by the US Federal Trade Commission. The FTC created a database of 100 fake people’s credentials, and posted it on a couple of underground hackers’ websites. Nine minutes later, people were trying to use the data to access the “victims'” email and financial accounts: http://bit.ly/2rnkzwo