WELCOME to Connected Rights, your skip in the step of digital rights news and analysis.
THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION HAS ANNOUNCED A “NEW DEAL FOR CONSUMERS” regarding big tech platforms – or at least announced that one is coming. This follows the Commission’s ongoing hassles with Google, Facebook and Twitter over the terms they try to impose on Europeans, and the way in which they deal with takedowns of illegal material.
The Commission said today that the platforms have made some progress. As the companies just announced, their terms will no longer force EU consumers to waive their mandatory consumer rights, such as the right to withdraw from an online purchase. They will also let people complain in Europe rather than California, and will no longer try to wriggle out of their obligation to clearly identify ads and sponsored content.
However, the Commission said: “While Google’s latest proposals appear to be in line with the requests made by consumer authorities, Facebook and, more significantly, Twitter, have only partially addressed important issues about their liability and about how users are informed of possible content removal or contract termination.”
The Commission is particularly annoyed about how platforms deal with “notice and action” requests. “Facebook and Twitter have only agreed to provide a dedicated e-mail address that national authorities can use to notify infringements, without committing to deal with such requests within specific timeframes,” it carped.
FACEBOOK MOSTLY LOST AN IMPORTANT DATA PROTECTION case in Germany, with the Berlin regional court agreeing with consumer watchdog association VZBV that the social network doesn’t give users clear enough information to allow them to consent to the processing of their data in an informed way: http://zd.net/2EIaSyM
Clauses about using people’s photos for ads and sending their data to the US are too broadly phrased to be legally sound, the court said, adding that its apps’ default settings – regarding things like location sharing and making profiles available through search engines – were all wrong.
However, some people have misreported what the court said about Facebook’s insistence that people use their real names. While the VZBV is adamant that this is illegal under the German Telemedia Act, the court did not ban Facebook’s real-names policy as such – it just said that the relevant clause was not phrased well enough to be legal.
Everyone’s appealing various aspects of this ruling, so expect to see more on this in the future.
WHAT MADE FACEBOOK THINK IT WAS OK to launch the much-derided “Messenger Kids” service, just as everyone is piling into big tech for promoting addiction? The views of experts… that Facebook funded: http://bit.ly/2swm1xT
THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT HAS UNVEILED “ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE“, developed in partnership with a firm called ASI Data Science, that it claims can spot terrorist propaganda, in order to block it: http://bit.ly/2Ga4bCY
According to the Guardian‘s report: “The AI technology has been trained by analysing more than 1,000 Isis videos, automatically detecting 94% of propaganda with a 99.99% success rate. If the platform were to process 1m randomly selected videos, only 50 would require additional human review, the Home office said.”
I’d like to know about the false positive rate, and what recourse is available to those whose videos are unjustly snagged by the system (satirists, for example).
SALON CAUSED A STIR WHEN IT PROPOSED that its readers allow the online publication to use their computers for cryptocurrency mining while they read articles, in lieu of seeing ads. A lot of people have reacted badly to the idea, while Motherboard’s Jordan Pearson says it’s actually not so bad: http://bit.ly/2EtQnH0
I’m with Pearson on this. Yes, “cryptojacking” is bad – mining uses a lot of energy, which could have battery-draining implications, and it’s really not a nice thing to do to someone without telling them first. However, online ads are often really bad too, and their surreptitious tracking of users is not genuinely consensual. Becoming a temporary miner for online publications could be consensual, as long as the implications are clearly spelled out.
Most importantly, we need new revenue models for online journalism that are not based on surveillance and on trying to maximise clicks at the expense of accuracy and proper reportage. I’m really not convinced that micropayments are the future here – at least, in a form that doesn’t bring everything into Facebook’s walled garden (see my book) – and subscriptions, while great in many cases, intrinsically limit the spread of information. So I’m all for experimenting with other models.
If this story-for-mining tradeoff is going to work, which it might, then it will need full transparency and honesty. Salon’s first try falls short – it misrepresents the costs to users and doesn’t spell out the cryptocurrency stuff until you click through the FAQ – but the idea itself may have a lot of potential.
It’s easy to sneer at a media company jumping on the blockchain bandwagon, but I’m not seeing many better ideas out there. Especially when this concept would reward real journalism rather than in-and-out clickbait.
FOR AN EXAMPLE OF NONCONSENSUAL CRYPTOJACKING, see what happened a few days ago to the websites of the U.S. Courts, the NHS and many other official websites around the world – including that of the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office: http://for.tn/2EvU7Id
Someone snuck cryptojacking code into an accessibility plugin that all these websites use to make it easier for people with dyslexia or poor language skills to read their content. Accessibility should certainly not cost the user! This is also a salutary lesson (as if we need more) in how the labyrinthine interdependencies of modern online services can lead to serious threats.
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 email@example.com.
LAST YEAR’S BIG EQUIFAX HACK WAS – SURPRISE! – WORSE than Equifax let on. Turns out the hackers also got “taxpayer identification numbers, phone numbers, email addresses, and credit card expiry dates belonging to some Equifax customers”: http://bit.ly/2BwNgvn
SONY HANDED OVER THE DETAILS of one of its PlayStation users to the authorities, who suspect that the individual planned to go fight for terrorists in the Middle East. As Thomas Fox-Brewster notes, this may be the first example of Sony divulging such information in response to a court order: http://bit.ly/2HiApwY
MICROSOFT ISN’T HURRYING TO FIX a serious flaw in Skype that leaves users’ computers vulnerable to takeover/spying/whatever. It says it will rectify the problem in a future new version of Skype rather than patching it now, because that’s too much bother: http://zd.net/2F1uEmO