WELCOME to Connected Rights, your chip on the shoulder of digital rights news and analysis.

IT SEEMS TO BE CONTENT MODERATION TRANSPARENCY WEEK, judging by the output of both Facebook and YouTube in the last couple days. For those who worry about how the big platforms regulate our online activity, there’s a fair bit to digest here.

Facebook first – the social network has finally publicised its internal guidelines for moderators, which have previously only come to light through leaks. Here, for example, is what Facebook’s quasi-law-enforcers are told about hate speech:

“We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity and serious disability or disease. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define ‘attack’ as violent or dehumanising speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.”

And what’s more, Facebook is for the first time allowing people to appeal against takedowns of individual posts (as opposed to the removal of whole pages or accounts, which could already be appealed). Anyone subject to a post takedown will be notified and given the option to launch an appeal that will be reviewed “typically within 24 hours”.

Meanwhile, over at YouTube, the video platform has for the first time released a figure for the number of clips it removes – more than 8 million in the last quarter of 2017. And it attributes that high number to its machine learning systems, which are quicker to flag up potentially unacceptable content than people are.

The YouTube team said: “At the beginning of 2017, 8 percent of the videos flagged and removed for violent extremism were taken down with fewer than 10 views. We introduced machine learning flagging in June 2017. Now more than half of the videos we remove for violent extremism have fewer than 10 views.”

However, they were also very keen to emphasise that a lot of people are involved in this process – AI just does the flagging: “Last year we committed to bringing the total number of people working to address violative content to 10,000 across Google by the end of 2018. At YouTube, we’ve staffed the majority of additional roles needed to reach our contribution to meeting that goal. We’ve also hired full-time specialists with expertise in violent extremism, counterterrorism, and human rights, and we’ve expanded regional expert teams.”

…The UK’s Open Rights Group spotted a potential inconsistency between YouTube’s figures and those from British law enforcement.

Here’s executive director Jim Killock: “YouTube recorded just 73 government reports of illegal videos globally, over three months. Yet the UK police through the Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) are claiming 10,000 ‘pieces’ of extremist content are being removed from the Internet a month. Many of those should be at YouTube.

“Something is wrong with someone’s figures. CTIRU need to disclose how they calculate their figures so that we know who is fibbing.”

To support my work, please consider visiting my Patreon page or buying my book, Control Shift.

HERE COMES THE LEGISLATION, OR AT LEAST the legislative attempt, to give people in the U.S. more rights on social media platforms. Amy Klobuchar and John Kennedy’s Social Media Privacy Protection and Consumer Rights Act of 2018 would force companies such as Facebook to tell users who gets access to their data, explain how their data is used, and give them a comprehensive copy of their data if they demand it.

The bipartisan bill would also make platforms tell users about Cambridge Analytica-style mishandling incidents within 72 hours rather than, uh, a couple of years. As April Glaser notes at Slate, there does seem to be some momentum behind this right now. Will it pass? Who knows? But it would be nice to see the US get at least a GDPR Lite law.

THERE HAS BEEN MUCH OUTRAGE OVER FACEBOOK’S decision to stop using Ireland as the base for all its users outside North America (obviously it will remain Facebook’s European legal hub, but users from Asia/Australasia, Africa and South America will find themselves under Californian jurisdiction instead).

Is this such a terrible, treacherous move? I’m minded to say not – Facebook is certainly within its rights to make the change. But I reckon people are possibly missing the point here. Maybe this isn’t really about taking people out of the reach of the GDPR’s new rules, which come into effect a month from today. Maybe it’s more about mitigating the fallout of the potential collapse of the Privacy Shield agreement and the other legal mechanisms that allow EU-US data-sharing. These are being challenged at the EU’s highest court, so stay tuned.

THERE’S BEEN A SHAKEUP IN FACEBOOK’S LEADERSHIP on the lobbying and privacy fronts. Erin Egan had been heading up US policy, but that role is now being taken over by former FCC chair Kevin Martin (who has been with Facebook since 2015, as VP for mobile and global access policy). Egan will focus on her other role as chief privacy officer, which now comes with “expanded duties” for some inexplicable reason.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL HAS POINTED OUT that, while Facebook is currently the doghouse’s star tenant, Google actually collects more data on people.

A key bit from the piece: “Google Analytics is far and away the web’s most dominant analytics platform. Used on the sites of about half of the biggest companies in the US, it has a total reach of 30 million to 50 million sites. Google Analytics tracks you whether or not you are logged in. Meanwhile, the billion-plus people who have Google accounts are tracked in even more ways.”

Google has promised website administrators a new tool for deleting all the analytics data associated with an individual user from their websites. Let’s hope it’s super-clear to users as to how to demand this.

MEANWHILE, GOOGLE IS TRYING TO INSERT BIG EXEMPTIONS into a new Illinois law that attempts to give the state’s citizens more biometric privacy. In particular, it wants the law to avoid regulating photos – which contain probably the most prevalent biometric data out there. Now that’s chutzpah.

TWITTER HAS PROMISED TO STOP COLLECTING browser data from people in the EU who visit third-party sites with embedded Twitter content. As Digital Context Next’s Jason Kint noted, this is “way better leadership than the Duopoly – Facebook and Google”.

MOST EU MEMBER STATES WON’T BE READY for the introduction of the GDPR in a month’s time, as only half a dozen have passed the implementing acts needed to spell out certain details for businesses – and even some of the acts that have passed don’t contain all the detail they should.

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 david@dmeyer.eu.

OMGDPR ORGANISER CHRIS ADAMS HAS written an account of the event last weekend, which I sadly couldn’t make. It certainly looks like it was a valuable experience for all involved. In that post you’ll also find links to templates that companies/organisations can use to assess their readiness for the GDPR – use them!

HOW BAD IS THE FAKE ADVERTISING PROBLEM? When consumer finance expert Martin Lewis sued Facebook for carrying dozens of scammy ads featuring his face (he’s taking the defamation tack), the story naturally got coverage. Only, as one Guardian reader noticed, that paper’s online article was itself carrying a scammy fake ad – featuring Martin Lewis! Online advertising really is thoroughly broken.

TWITTER BANNED THE CYBERSECURITY FIRM KASPERSKY from advertising on its platform, due to… well, that’s not very clear, apart from a possible link to the fact that the US government isn’t terribly keen on the Russian firm right now. Anyhow, Kaspersky’s response? To donate its 2018 Twitter ad budget to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “They do a lot to fight censorship online,” Eugene Kaspersky noted.

ADBLOCK PLUS ISN’T BREAKING THE LAW, German courts have ruled for the nth time. This time there’s a twist, though: AdBlock Plus isn’t even breaking German competition law by forcing big publishers to pay for inclusion on its whitelist.

SOUTH AFRICA’S SPIES SPY ON CITIZENS’ social media posts using a Canadian tool called Media Sonar. The Daily Maverick has an in-depth look at what’s going on.


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