WELCOME to Connected Rights, your new hope in the galaxy 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. Emedi!
IF THE US DOES GET A FEDERAL PRIVACY LAW, as is looking increasingly likely, who should enforce it? As I explain in a piece for IAPP’s Privacy Advisor, the answer could be complicated.
The FTC definitely wants the job, but privacy activists say it’s done such a poor job on privacy thus far that it would be too compromised to handle it. They want a new, EU-style federal data protection regulator – but they also see a place for state-level regulation as a “privacy multiplier to protect the public”. The whole reason why tech firms are suddenly enthusiastic about federal legislation is their antipathy towards strong local laws, such as those in California. Now’s a good time to get familiar with the debate, as it’s likely to heat up this year.
FACEBOOK HAS FINALLY AXED ITS DATA-SUCKING Onavo app on the Android platform. The app provides VPN functionality and cuts down on data usage, but it tells Facebook about everything you’re doing on your phone. Apple nixed it ages ago – as it more recently did with similar “market research” apps from Facebook and Google – but it was still available for Android until last week.
Indeed, Facebook’s other “market research” programs are also still running on Android, and a company spokesperson told TechCrunch: “Market research helps companies build better products for people. We are shifting our focus to reward-based market research which means we’re going to end the Onavo program.”
WANT A DEPRESSING READ? Here’s The Verge’s report on what it’s like being a contract moderator for Facebook. The job is traumatising and, it turns out, radicalising too. Some snippets:
“It’s a place where, in stark contrast to the perks lavished on Facebook employees, team leaders micromanage content moderators’ every bathroom and prayer break; where employees, desperate for a dopamine rush amid the misery, have been found having sex inside stairwells and a room reserved for lactating mothers; where people develop severe anxiety while still in training, and continue to struggle with trauma symptoms long after they leave; and where the counseling that [contractor] Cognizant offers them ends the moment they quit — or are simply let go.
“The moderators told me it’s a place where the conspiracy videos and memes that they see each day gradually lead them to embrace fringe views. One auditor walks the floor promoting the idea that the Earth is flat. A former employee told me he has begun to question certain aspects of the Holocaust. Another former employee, who told me he has mapped every escape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, said: ‘I no longer believe 9/11 was a terrorist attack.'”
THE EU COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE CLEARED another hurdle yesterday with approval by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee. That means the final opportunity to stop Articles 11 and 13 will, as predicted, come at plenary next month.
So what does David Kaye, the UN’s special rapporteur on free expression, reckon about the draft being voted through? He’s criticised it in the past and… yup, he’s still criticising it. Here’s what he said in a speech yesterday: Article 13 is “a dangerous and unfortunate approach to the genuine problem of copyright protection, a major threat to a free and open internet. The push for upload filters, whether express or implied, is intense.”
“I want to be clear,” he continued. “Upload filters, pressure for instant removal, provide a template for the use of AI in deeply problematic ways. It is not only about terrorist content, or hate speech, or disinformation, or copyright. It is about the way we deploy these technologies and how they may interfere with fundamental human rights and shape the information environment.”
CONSUMER ADVOCATES NOW HAVE SNAPCHAT in their sights. Elisabeth Haugseth, the director of Norway’s consumer protection agency, tweeted that Snapchat’s new terms of service, which give the service broad rights over people’s content, looked similar to Tinder’s terms, which the agency successfully targeted in the past. “We will discuss Snapchat’s terms with European colleagues,” she wrote ominously.
PRICING ALGORITHMS COLLUDE TO KEEP PRICES HIGH, as explained here by marketing lecturer Graeme McLean:
“The algorithms study the activity of online shops to learn the economic dynamics of the marketplace (how products are priced, normal consumption patterns, levels of supply and demand). But they can also unintentionally ‘talk’ to other pricing programmes by constantly watching the price points of other sellers in order to learn what works in the marketplace.”
“These algorithms are not necessarily programmed to monitor other algorithms in this way. But they learn that it’s the best thing to do to reach their goal of maximising profit. This results in an unintended collusion of pricing, where prices are set within a very close boundary of each other. If one firm raises prices, competitor systems will immediately respond by raising theirs, creating a colluded non-competitive market.”
CHINA’S HIT PROPAGANDA APP, Xuexi Qiangguo, is a hit because many people are forced to download it. But it is nonetheless widely used and, well, it has to be seen to be believed. If this is the future, it’s a dark one my friends.