WELCOME to Connected Rights, your jazz in the hands of digital rights news and analysis.
Enjoy this newsletter? Forward it to a friend or get them to sign up. I’m David Meyer, aka @superglaze on Twitter and @davidmeyerwrites on Facebook. Don’t forget to check out the Connected Rights website and download a copy of my book, Control Shift: How Technology Affects You and Your Rights. Murakaza neza!
OH GOOGLE. While Facebook was in the spotlight over the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, it turns out Google was trying to avoid a similar drubbing by covering up the existence of a flaw in the Google+ code.
Apart from being a wildly unsuccessful social network, Google+ gives third-party developers a login mechanism for their apps. According to the Wall Street Journal, the bug allowed those third parties to see the personal data not only of the Google+ users logging into through that mechanism, but also the data of those users’ friends on the network. Now, Google is shutting down Google+’s consumer functionality – and its secret, which was never previously disclosed to users, is out.
Did anyone exploit the bug for nefarious purposes? It seems Google has no idea, as it only keeps API log data for a couple weeks.
On the, ahem, plus side, Google’s “Project Strobe” mission to audit the access it gives outsiders appears to be bearing fruit. Will anyone miss Google+? According to Google, “the consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds”. Ouch.
SPEAKING OF CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA, Hamburg’s activist data protection authority, Johannes Caspar, has ended his probe into Facebook’s conduct during the affair, reportedly in part because it’s been years since Facebook changed the policies that allowed the illicit data-snarfing.
BACK TO GOOGLE, AND THE COMPANY SCORED a win on Monday when the UK’s High Court blocked an attempted class action over its circumvention of privacy protections in Apple’s Safari browser.
In this case, the offence was around seven years old. The groundbreaking suit was filed in November last year – there had been no previous “representative actions” in the UK regarding data protection. However, the High Court decided that the claimants had not suffered damage by Google’s nefarious tracking, under the terms of the Data Protection Act.
THE INTERCEPT, WHICH BROKE THE NEWS OF GOOGLE’S secret development of a censored search app for China, has published a transcript of comments made months ago by Google’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes. The comments contradict Google’s line – as espoused by Gomes himself recently – that the company has no plans to launch the app anytime soon, and that all that’s taken place so far is “exploration”. Instead, he said back in July, the app must be ready to be “brought off the shelf and quickly deployed” once China’s regime gives the thumbs-up.
Here’s Gomes and his management-speak: “There is a huge binary difference between being launched and not launched. And so we want to be careful that we don’t miss that window if it ever comes.”
SO, WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO PRIVACY SHIELD, the post-Safe Harbour deal that allows companies in the US to easily import the personal data of customers in the EU? The European Commission says the US isn’t complying with its terms, the European Parliament is annoyed and… oh wait, no, everything’s fine, according to the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland.
Sondland, as reported by Euractiv: “There is no non-compliance.We are fully compliant. As we’ve told the Europeans, we really don’t want to discuss this any further. And their response was ‘OK’… Let’s discuss things that have true relevance instead of discussing something where there is no problem.”
Let’s see about that.
ITALY IS NOT SUPPORTING THE EU COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE, which, as I’ve tediously explained many times now, threatens to introduce widespread online censorship and kill off much of European media (while claiming to support it). Italy’s deputy premier, the 5-Star Movement’s Luigi Di Maio, spoke out against the European Parliament’s approval of the text last month, so it’s not very surprising that the country is now officially no longer on board.
IF YOU COULD USE A HANDY DEMONSTRATION OF THE ALGORITHMIC BIAS problem, Amazon has you covered. According to a new Reuters report, the company spent years developing an “AI” recruitment system, only to ditch it after discovering that it was sexist.
The issue, as is generally the case with machine-learning systems, was the data fed into the system in order to train it to pick the best candidates. Said data comprised a decade’s worth of CVs that were submitted to Amazon, and guess what? Thanks to the fact that the tech industry skews male, most of those job applications were from men, and Amazon’s AI decided to start discriminating against CVs that included words such as “women’s” and references to women-only colleges.
From the piece: “Amazon edited the programs to make them neutral to these particular terms. But that was no guarantee that the machines would not devise other ways of sorting candidates that could prove discriminatory, the people said. The Seattle company ultimately disbanded the team by the start of last year because executives lost hope for the project.”
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I MAY RAG ON GOOGLE A LOT, BUT occasionally the company does get something right on the privacy front. Case in point: it’s just released a new Home Hub that does not include a camera, because it (rightly) reckons that many people might be a little weirded out by having a web-connected camera in their bathrooms and bedrooms.
Facebook, meanwhile, has just released a rival device called the Portal, which is all about the camera (for video-calling). And even Facebook seems to be starting to grok this privacy thing: the camera comes with a physical cover, on top of functionality to “completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap”.
Here’s more from the announcement blog: “Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure. For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.”
To be honest, I still don’t trust either company, and I also don’t feel any need to introduce a smart hub into my home even if it was super-private, but it’s nice to see industry movement in the right direction.