WELCOME to Connected Rights, your kool in the gang 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. Koş geldiniz!
THE WEB IS 30 YEARS OLD NOW and inventor Tim Berners-Lee has thoughts. “Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good,” he wrote in an essay. “But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”
Governments must “ensure markets remain competitive, innovative and open [and] protect people’s rights and freedoms online”, he continued, and “companies must do more to ensure their pursuit of short-term profit is not at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety”. Hear hear.
“And most important of all, citizens must hold companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make, and demand that both respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart. If we don’t elect politicians who defend a free and open web, if we don’t do our part to foster constructive healthy conversations online, if we continue to click consent without demanding our data rights be respected, we walk away from our responsibility to put these issues on the priority agenda of our governments.”
All true, but few elections have been fought on digital rights turf up until now, certainly outside Europe. However, that may change with the 2020 presidential election in the US. Quite a few Democratic candidates have a lot to say on the subject, from Elizabeth Warren’s antitrust assault to attacks on Google from the likes of Kamala Harris and John Delaney. More people are aware of these issues after privacy scandals in the last couple years. Time to see how much they care.
WHEN ELIZABETH WARREN PUT ADS ON FACEBOOK promoting her call for the breakup of tech giants such as Facebook itself, what did the company do? Take down the ads, on the basis that they used the corporate logo without authorisation.
When Politico noticed, Facebook restored the ads “in the interest of allowing robust debate”. By then, the own-goal had been scored and the presidential hopeful was dancing on the pitch. “Curious why I think FB has too much power?” Warren tweeted. “Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor. #BreakUpBigTech.”
LAST WEEK, MARK ZUCKERBERG PUBLISHED a blog post outlining his “pro-privacy” vision for Facebook, which leans a lot on the company pushing its various messaging services more enthusiastically – with back-end integration that is both a privacy and antitrust problem.
As I noted in a Fortune essay, Zuckerberg’s promotion of strong encryption is good but also protects only the contents of messages. Facebook will still make great use of the metadata, no doubt for its own profiling purposes but also explicitly to “identify and stop bad actors across our apps by detecting patterns of activity”.
The one unequivocally praiseworthy part of Zuck’s screed was his insistence that Facebook would not play ball with data localisation laws in “countries that have a track record of violating human rights like privacy or freedom of expression”. In other words, it seems he’s giving up on his dream of rolling out Facebook in China, and seems to be accepting the future blockage of the service in Russia, where authorities have been demanding for ages that Facebook store users’ personal data within the grasp of state intelligence.
YOU MAY HAVE BEEN FOOLED by people such as me into thinking the Russian government was some sort of enemy to internet freedom, just because it bans loads of websites and VPNs, prosecutes people for sharing memes, demands encryption keys from messaging providers, forces internet service providers to record who is using which app, mandates [Cut for lack of space – Ed.] and wants to criminalise insulting the authorities online [Yes yes, enough now – Ed.]
Well, think again. Because the Kremlin is actually a big fan of internet freedom, as spokesman Dmitry Peskov patiently explained to reporters covering street protests against the “Runet” plan, which is sort of analogous to China’s Great Firewall.
“We cannot support their misunderstanding and deception that the passed bills are somehow aimed at limiting internet freedom,” said Peskov, thoroughly debunking the idea that centralising control over the Russian internet, while creating the ability to cut off the outside internet at will, has something to do with censorship.
As you were, then.
THE UN’S FREE-EXPRESSION RAPPORTEUR STILL THINKS Article 13 of the almost-finalized EU Copyright Directive is awful. Or, in David Kaye’s own words: “Article 13 of the proposed Directive appears destined to drive internet platforms toward monitoring and restriction of user-generated content even at the point of upload. Such sweeping pressure for pre-publication filtering is neither a necessary nor proportionate response to copyright infringement online…
“Misplaced confidence in filtering technologies to make nuanced distinctions between copyright violations and legitimate uses of protected material would escalate the risk of error and censorship. Who would bear the brunt of this practice? Typically it would be creators and artists, who lack the resources to litigate such claims.”
IN A BIZARRE TWIST TO THE ARTICLE 11 DEBATE – the part of the Copyright Directive that would introduce ancillary copyright – the EU Parliament’s Twitter feed published a falsehood-packed video supporting the directive that turned out to have been made by… AFP, one of the publishers that hopes to benefit from the new rules, and that has already been putting out “reportage” that is clearly designed to lobby for them.
JAPAN IS DITCHING DRACONIAN COPYRIGHT PROPOSALS that would have criminalised the taking of screenshots and the pasting of lyrics. “We have yet to eliminate the worries of both copyright holders and users,” said a lawmaker. “We would work on it anew.”
THE UK’S HOUSE OF LORDS HAS PUBLISHED a report about “Regulating in a digital world”, in which the Ermine Crew recommends a bunch of good principles for future regulation: privacy, ethical design, openness, transparency, democratic accountability and so on.
Also, regarding user-generated-content platforms’ failure to self-regulate effectively: “Their moderation processes are unacceptably opaque and slow. We recommend that online services which host user-generated content should be subject to a statutory duty of care and that [communications regulator] Ofcom should have responsibility for enforcing this duty of care…The duty of care should ensure that providers take account of safety in designing their services to prevent harm. This should include providing appropriate moderation processes to handle complaints about content.”
Here’s Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg’s take: “We are sleep-walking towards a system in which perfectly legal online speech is regulated. Anyone who thinks this is going to target only deliberate nastiness and won’t impact political criticism, religious expression or advocacy for minority groups is living in cloud cuckoo land.”
MEANWHILE, THE UK’S “DIGITAL COMPETITION EXPERT PANEL” has told the British chancellor, Phillip Hammond, that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should probe the digital advertising market. That will be tricky right now, the CMA advised today, as the antitrust regulator’s “ability to launch new projects is heavily dependent on the outcome of EU Exit negotiations”. There’s nothing Brexit can’t taint.
I’LL ADMIT IT – THE FINAL PART of this newsletter may as well be called the “WTF China” section much of the time. This week’s instalment involves a Chinese database, open to anyone who could find it on the web, that listed the personal information and “BreedReady status” of 1.8 million women. The BreedReady “1” status, presumably denoting optimal fertility, was assigned to girls as young as 15.
To be fair, it’s not clear if this database (since taken down) was official, or whether it was the property of a dreadful dating app or something. But with the Chinese government’s recent keenness on boosting procreation, one has to wonder.