WELCOME to Connected Rights, your ghost in the machine of digital rights news and analysis.
First things first…
I’VE WRITTEN A BOOK! It’s called Control Shift: How Technology Affects Your and Your Rights, and you can buy it now on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2Adw7WF (That’s the link to the US store – it’s in the others too, in paperback and ebook formats.)
Control Shift is basically a guide to digital rights, written for people who don’t live and breathe tech politics and policy. Everyone these days needs to be able to understand things like online surveillance and censorship, algorithms and disinformation, encryption, and net neutrality. So I’ve done my best to explain these issues in non-technical language, showing how they all form part of a bigger picture.
Maybe it would be a great gift for the friends and loved ones you’d like to bring up to speed on this stuff. Or maybe you want to throw a copy to/at your elected representatives, to help them understand what’s at stake.
OK, plug over (for now). On with the show…
THE DECISION TO SCRAP NET NEUTRALITY IN THE US seems to have been preceded by a public consultation in which millions of pro-repeal public comments were faked: http://bit.ly/2jmDZLp
Data scientist Jeff Kao ran the numbers and found that “less than 800,000 of the 22M+ comments submitted to the FCC (3-4%) could be considered truly unique”. Now, obviously public mailing campaigns will often involve people sending pre-written messages, but here it seems someone was running automated programs to push out messages with the semblance of uniqueness.
As Kao wrote: “It’s scary to think that organic, authentic voices in the public debate — more than 99% of which are in favour of keeping net neutrality — are being drowned out by a chorus of spambots. We already live in a time of low faith in public institutions, and given these findings, I fear that the federal regulatory public comment process may be yet another public forum lost to spam and disinformation.”
Meanwhile, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman is trying to investigate the identity theft that led to fake comments being submitted in real people’s names, but Ajit Pai’s FCC won’t help him: http://bit.ly/2mOOR9P
FACEBOOK NEMESIS MAX SCHREMS HAS CREATED A NEW NGO called NOYB, which will (if funded) help to collectively enforce people’s privacy rights in cases involving commercial violations. The incoming General Data Protection Regulation will let NGOs do this, so NOYB is preparing to take advantage of the GDPR’s introduction next May: http://noyb.eu/
This is a good idea. Yes, the GDPR will already allow people to challenge commercial privacy abuses through data protection authorities, but in many countries the DPAs will remain too underfunded to do everything they should be able to do. There’s a lot to be gained from waging war on infringers in an organised fashion, and from having experts seek out the worst infringements that need fixing.
And if you’re not in the EU? Schrems & Co. reckon they might be able to help you too, in effect, by ensuring that the new European law gets properly enforced. If you dive into the detailed mission statement (http://bit.ly/2i16ONv), you’ll see this:
“While EU law only applies to the European market, global providers that offer ‘one size fits all’ solutions will often have to stick to the highest global standard in practice. Many global providers also operate EU subsidiaries for non-EU markets (e.g. EMEA or all non-US markets). Europe can therefore function as a global pacemaker (‘California Effect’), leading to a higher level of privacy protections worldwide.”
And how about this? NOYB says one of its first projects might be to tackle Apple and Google over their management of the smartphone market: “Their policies are based on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis and allow these companies significant access to the most personal device of most consumers. Enforcement actions in this area could have a substantial impact in the daily life of almost every citizen.”
If NOYB reaches its €500,000 goal, it will be able to get up and running next year. Oh, and the name stands for “none of your business”, since you ask.
Want to support this newsletter? If so, you rock! Here’s my Patreon page. A thousand thanks to those who are already contributing.
FACEBOOK AND TWITTER SAY THEY’RE READY TO COOPERATE with the UK probes into possible Russian social media interference with the Brexit referendum. One of the investigations is being run by the Commons culture committee, the other by the Electoral Commission: http://bzfd.it/2iYzDuv
HERE’S A FASCINATING PIECE FROM ASIAN TECH BLOG Tech In Asia that details how WeChat, the ginormous Chinese social network, tackles “fake news”. Which, in China, basically means everything the government wants to suppress: http://bit.ly/2Brftkt
From the article: “Called WeSeer, the internal tool is the ultimate gauge of China’s netizen hivemind: it can predict which articles will go viral in the next hour, pinpoint key accounts driving the spread of information, and identify stories of interest for different communities, whether it’s locals in Beijing or people who love AI… Articles that are shared between accounts, both on personal newsfeeds and via public accounts, create a path when they travel through the social network… By analysing these propagation paths, you can start classifying articles by their behaviour.”
My favourite part of the piece is a quote from Huamin Qu, who works on the project: “I think it’s a very challenging problem. If you think about it, some rumours are like the truth.” Indeed, and some are the truth.
FACEBOOK PROMISED TO STOP LETTING PEOPLE RUN discriminatory ads last year. ProPublica, whose original investigation led to the promised change, re-tested Facebook and found it was still allowing people to, for example, run housing ads that exclude Jews and black people from those who can see them: http://bit.ly/2B0qpog
It’s almost like Facebook’s whole system of ultra-targeted advertising is fundamentally built on allowing advertisers to discriminate, and the company would rather keep that going than comply with anti-discrimination laws.
If you’d like me to write articles for you about digital rights issues, speak at your event or provide privacy advice for your business, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A YOUNG VIETNAMESE BLOGGER NAMED NGUYEN VAN HOA has been jailed for seven years for calling for protests about a toxic waste spill from a steel mill. The spill, which came from a plant owned by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics, was a major environmental disaster that killed many fish. Hoa was convicted of “conducting propaganda against the state”: http://reut.rs/2iYUNsy
THE MESSAGING APP TELEGRAM HAS ZAPPED one of its “channels” – the public groups that let users broadcast messages to large groups of people – most likely because someone used it to share Taylor Swift’s latest album. As TorrentFreak reports, the route of the complaint that resulted in this unprecedented channel deletion is particularly interesting: http://bit.ly/2n1aQul
It appears that Swift’s record label complained to Google and Apple, the companies that distribute Telegram to mobile users through their app stores, and those companies – on which Telegram depends for its survival – pressured Telegram to take down the channel. The guy who created the channel did not himself receive any warnings.
HEY, WHO WANTS TO BE UBER’S EUROPEAN DATA PROTECTION OFFICER? Serious question, as the job ad is still up. But, to put it mildly, it’s probably not going to be an easy role: http://ubr.to/2Adfryt