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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. Swagatam!
EVERY YEAR, MARK ZUCKERBERG SETS HIMSELF a challenge. Previous examples include wearing a tie every day, only eating meat from animals he’s killed, and learning Mandarin. Last year’s personal challenge was – for real – fixing the moderation and misinformation issues on Facebook, a.k.a. doing his job.
So what’s the cult leader‘s challenge for 2019? Zuck is going to “host a series of public discussions about the future of technology in society – the opportunities, the challenges, the hopes, and the anxieties”.
“Every few weeks I’ll talk with leaders, experts, and people in our community from different fields and I’ll try different formats to keep it interesting. These will all be public, either on my Facebook or Instagram pages or on other media,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“This will be intellectually interesting, but there’s a personal challenge for me here too. I’m an engineer, and I used to just build out my ideas and hope they’d mostly speak for themselves. But given the importance of what we do, that doesn’t cut it anymore. So I’m going to put myself out there more than I’ve been comfortable with and engage more in some of these debates about the future, the tradeoffs we face, and where we want to go.”
It’s nice that Zuckerberg has decided to start listening to people and explaining himself more – I’m sure the British parliament would like him to finally show up, though it may have other things to worry about right now. But this format sounds more than hokey. Zuck doesn’t need to be “hosting” discussions like this, which will obviously attract a great deal of media attention. He needs to be interrogated and held to account, and he’s the last person who should be controlling such debates.
The proof is in the pudding, but right now this sounds like nothing more than a PR campaign. Challenge not accepted.
THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT HAS EMBARKED on a six-month crusade to scrub “vulgar information” from online media, from livestreaming services to messaging apps. Web firms Baidu and Sohu currently have to suspend updates on their news and content feeds, so “illegal internet information” can be removed. Expect more of this in the coming months.
NETFLIX HAS BEEN RIGHTLY CRITICISED for pulling an episode of Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act in Saudi Arabia, at the behest of the authorities. In the episode, the American comedian lampooned the Saudi authorities’ ever-shifting explanations for the disappearance, then death, then murder of exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. The Saudis invoked their expansive cybersecurity law, which bans “material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers”.
“So maybe the innovation of broadband streaming has not quite ushered in a brave new world of artistic freedom of expression after all,” opined CNN media analyst Bill Carter. Well, yeah – look at the growing prevalence of site blocking and internet shutdowns; look at China’s Great Firewall.
But this incident does highlight how corporate greed and cowardice can play a big role in limiting online free expression too. Yes, Netflix may have received an authentic legal order to take down the episode, but it had a choice. It could have fought it. It could have exited Saudi Arabia. It didn’t. I wonder how Netflix employees feel about that.
In the event, the order only came through months after the episode went up, and the clip is still available to view in Saudi Arabia over other channels. As Minhaj quipped: “Clearly, the best way to stop people from watching something is to ban it, make it trend online, and then leave it up on YouTube.”
LOS ANGELES IS SUING IBM OVER THE WEATHER CHANNEL APP that’s run by IBM’s The Weather Company. Why? The app tells users that it wants to track their location in order to offer them more targeted weather forecasts – fair enough – but then it allegedly sends the data to “IBM affiliates and other third parties for advertising and other commercial purposes entirely unrelated to either weather or the Weather Channel app’s services.”
What would in the EU be handled under privacy law, specifically the GDPR (and perhaps it should be, as the app operates here too), is in this case being handled under California’s Unfair Competition Law, on the basis that The Weather Company is fraudulently deceiving its users.
LA city attorney Mike Feuer: “If the price of getting the weather forecast is the sacrifice of your most personal info about where you spend your time, you need to be clearly told in advance.” IBM insists that “The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data, the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously.”
A SETTLEMENT IS NEAR IN THE CLASS-ACTION lawsuit against Vizio, a smart TV maker that was caught spying on its customers.
Vizio has already incurred a $2.2 million fine from the Federal Trade Commission for constantly monitoring what people were watching on its TV sets without their knowledge. Vizio claimed it did this to make content suggestions, but it was selling the data to advertisers and data aggregators.
The class action has been ongoing since 2016. Now a court has ruled that it can be settled.
US MOBILE CARRIERS MERRILY SELL their customers’ location data, and guess what? It gets resold and ends up on the black market, falling into the hands of bounty hunters and the like.
CHECK OUT MICHÉLE FINCK’S NEW PAPER on smart contracts and the GDPR. She says it’s a work in progress and is inviting comments and criticisms. In the paper, she argues that smart contracts are neither smart nor contracts, but “they are, however, a form of solely automated data processing under Article 22(1) GDPR”.
THE OPEN WEB IS UNDER ATTACK from businesses and legislators, Heather Burns writes in a very useful primer for open-source developers, whom she urges to engage with the policy battles that threaten what they do.
“For example, the ability to use the open web requires inclusion of privacy and accessibility in your projects,” she writes. “To make that possible, these values should be implemented into project values and coding standards. But that commitment has to be more than a team’s platitudes. Upholding privacy and accessibility so that open source projects can be used must mean participating as projects in the development of accessibility standards, and representing projects in the consultative phases of government legislation on privacy.”
“Likewise, the ability to publish to the open web requires users to have the freedom of speech to publish. It also requires project administrators to enjoy the protection of a healthy intermediary liability framework, one which shields them from an obligation to act as privatised government censors.”