WELCOME to Connected Rights, your hadron in the collider of digital rights news and analysis.
GOOGLE PULLED OUT OF CHINA EIGHT YEARS AGO over the country’s censorship requirements and state-sponsored hacking. But now, according to multiple reports, the company is planning a return, with censor-friendly search and news aggregation apps being developed under a project codenamed Dragonfly.
What’s changed since 2010? Well, China’s online censorship has only gotten worse, so there aren’t any encouraging signs there. Google notably has a new CEO, in the form of Sundar Pichai, but the old leadership – founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin – are still around at the helm of parent company Alphabet. So it does just seem that Google, having abandoned its “Don’t be evil” motto, is no longer so discriminating about human rights when looking at wodges of cash.
The irony is that China’s online industry has taken off in the intervening period, meaning Google wouldn’t be able to waltz in as market leader. Frankly, unless Google has something particularly subversive in mind, there is little reason to hope for its success if Dragonfly pushes ahead.
THE HUMAN HAEMORRHOID, AKA ALEX JONES, FINALLY HAS CAUSE to cry about being censored, after he and his InfoWars outlet were booted off YouTube, Spotify and Facebook, and Apple’s podcast index (though the InfoWars apps are still up). Why the censorship? Hate speech and glorifying violence. Twitter has notably declined to ban Jones and InfoWars, in line with its general reluctance to shut down abusive people.
I shed zero tears for Jones and InfoWars, who have been responsible for causing real harm to vulnerable people. Yes, I am celebrating the muzzling of people I disagree with, but here’s the deal: these are privately held platforms that are enforcing their own terms of service, and for once this is not a case of the companies being dragooned into privatised enforcement of state-directed mores. It’s about running a community where people can feel safe. Where the abuse comes from a different political persuasion, I would expect the same response.
As one popular site puts it in its terms of service: “You are a guest here. It is not censorship if you violate the rules and your post is deleted. All civilizations have rules and if you violate them you can expect to be ostracized from the tribe.”
Thanks for those wise words, erm, InfoWars.com.
MAIL.RU, THE PROPRIETOR OF SOCIAL NETWORK VKONTAKTE among other services, has urged the Russian government to stop jailing people for liking posts and sharing memes. Such prosecutions are on the rise, with people being put behind bars for years just because of standard, possibly thoughtless social media actions. Now Mail.ru is calling for a law change and amnesty for those already convicted.
THE INDIAN GOVERNMENT WOULD LIKE TELCOS AND ISPS to advise it on how best to block Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram and other communications apps. However, the recipients of that request responded by saying they weren’t terribly keen on the idea.
“Blocking orders are often overboard, have unintended consequences such as [blanket] outages and end up causing serious harm to economic and consumer interests,” said industry association ASSOCHAM.
GERMAN CIVIL LIBERTIES ACTIVISTS AND POLITICIANS have launched a volley of constitutional complaints against the government over its law change a year ago that expanded the types of investigations where phone hacking can be used.
There’s a complaint from DigitalCourage, another from Free Democrat Party (FDP) politicians, and a third from the Society for Civil Rights (GFF), which is taking a two-pronged approach. The GFF is arguing that the law change doesn’t square up to a Constitutional Court ruling from a decade ago, about limits on computer hacking as a surveillance tool, and also that the technique encourages general insecurity – after all, if the authorities discover a dangerous flaw in software or systems, they will be motivated to keep that knowledge to themselves rather than informing the vendor so the flaw can be fixed.
HAVING PUBLISHED A REPORT INTO BRITISH POLICE USE OF PHONE HACKING, Privacy International has now formally written to the Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Adrian Fulford, asking for an “urgent review into the police’s use of the technology”.
FACEBOOK WILL BE ABLE TO APPEAL the Irish High Court’s decision to refer to the EU’s highest court questions about the validity of EU-US personal data transfers. The Supreme Court surprised observers by allowing the appeal, although, if it’s going to make any orders in the case, it had better do so before the CJEU conducts its hearings.
From the Irish Times: “[The chief justice] rejected arguments by the Data Protection Commissioner and Austrian lawyer Max Schrems that Facebook could not seek to have the Supreme Court reverse certain disputed findings of fact by the High Court, including findings about the extent of protections in the US for data privacy rights of EU citizens. It was ‘at least arguable’ Facebook may be able to persuade the Supreme Court that some or all of the facts under challenge should be reversed.”
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IT’S MORE THAN TWO MONTHS SINCE THE GDPR HIT, and more than 1,000 US news sites are still blocked for European readers.
THOSE BANNED 3D-PRINTED GUN FILES ARE STILL BEING PUBLISHED, shocking no-one who vaguely understands the internet. But is it correct to say, as the new publishers do, that code is speech and therefore worthy of First Amendment protection? Complicated question, but I don’t think so.