WELCOME to Connected Rights, your lint in the pocket 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. Kenang ka kgotso!
FACEBOOK IS ON A PROPER REGULATE-US KICK now, with Mark Zuckerberg penning a Washington Post op-ed about how online regulation should be harmonised around the world. Hmm, yes and no.
As I wrote in a Fortune piece, there is a strong case for alignment of regulation, not least because it would give businesses and users a clear idea of what to expect. But there is also a strong case against the idea. Even among relatively freedom-loving countries, there are big differences about things like the prioritisation of free speech over privacy, or vice versa. Facebook has now joined Apple and many others in saying the US should get a GDPR-style federal privacy law, but there’s no easy resolution for the clash between the First Amendment and the right to be forgotten, for example.
And there is no way that any harmonised system should take input from, say, China, Russia or Iran. Yes, “internet fragmentation” is far from ideal, but it’s better than over-compromising on issues such as censorship. Speaking of which…
THE LATEST “FAKE NEWS” BILL TO THREATEN online freedom comes courtesy of Singapore’s government. Facebook and rights groups are not keen. The tech firm says it is “concerned with aspects of the law that grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to users.”
THE UK INFORMATION COMMISSIONER HAS RESPONDED to Facebook’s regulation mania by suggesting the company could drop its appeal against the £500,000 fine she levied on the company over the Cambridge Analytica debacle.
Elizabeth Denham: “In light of Mark Zuckerberg’s statements over the weekend about the need for increased regulation across four areas, including privacy, I expect Facebook to review their current appeal.”
GOOGLE’S AI ETHICS BOARD HAS PROVEN CONTROVERSIAL, thanks to two of its members. Dyan Gibbens is CEO of a company, Trumbull, that makes autonomous military systems. Kay Coles James is president of the anti-LGBTQ-rights Heritage Foundation, making her maybe not the best person to advise on the ethics of algorithmic bias. One member of the new council, Alessandro Acquisti, has already pulled out, and hundreds of Googlers have signed a public letter opposing James’s appointment in particular.
GOOGLE IS NOW REFUSING TO CARRY ADS in China for two websites that tell people about censorship-circumvention software. The sites reviewed virtual private networks, as denoted by their names: Top10VPN and VPNMentor.
GreatFire’s Charlie Smith: “There are legally registered VPNs operating in China, so either Google has not kept up to date with local regulations or they are overstepping their boundaries.” So much for Google’s mission to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.
RUSSIA’S BAN ON VPNS HAS BEEN in force for almost two years now, but the country’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, is only now getting round to enforcing it.
Roskomnadzor has demanded that 10 popular VPN providers hook up their systems to its blacklist of sites that need to be blocked, so people can’t use the tools to circumvent those blocks. The providers refuse to play ball, with at least one – TorGuard – hurriedly removing its Russia-based servers. Others didn’t have servers there anyway. VyprVPN firm Golden Frog: “The strong censorship and oppression of the Russian regime was the main reason for us to avoid locating any of our servers inside Russia.”
The services are now likely to be blocked, in theory at least. The fact that they’re not located in Russia anyway (with the exception of Kaspersky Secure Connection) will make them as tricky to keep out as Telegram has proven.
SPARE A THOUGHT FOR PEOPLE IN CHAD, who have been without social media or messaging platforms for a whole year now. For that we can thank President Idriss Déby, who plans to retain power until 2033 and doesn’t want anyone organising against him.
THE PRO-PRIVACY BROWSER OUTFIT BRAVE HAS LODGED a formal complaint against IAB Europe, the surveillance-economy lobbying organisation. The complaint, filed with the Irish Data Protection Commission, this time isn’t about IAB Europe’s dodgy advice to marketeers; it’s about the organisation’s own cookie notice, which forces people to accept cookies.
Brave’s Johnny Ryan: “One should not be forced to accept web-wide profiling by unknown companies as a condition of access to a website. This would be like Facebook preventing you from accessing the Newsfeed until you have clicked a button permitting it to share your data with Cambridge Analytica.”
NOW THAT THE EU COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE IS NEARING the finish line, the lies about it not mandating upload filters have fallen away.
French culture minister Benjamin Henrion has admitted that filters will be required, and wants the directive to be transposed into French law as soon as possible, so the filtering can begin. And Günther Oettinger, the commissioner who proposed the directive, told Politico that filters may be needed but that’s nothing new, because geoblocking – stopping people from viewing content because of where they are – already exists.
Incidentally, some people still hope the directive might still be derailed if Sweden and Germany turn against it in the upcoming Council vote. I hope they’re right, but I expect the vote to be little more than a rubber-stamping exercise.
PS – The UK could derail the directive too, though it won’t. While recalling the fact that Tory MEPs backed the thing, please read this splendid piece of hypocrisy from Brexiteer Boris Johnson: “The EU’s new copyright law is terrible for the internet. It’s a classic EU law to help the rich and powerful, and we should not apply it. It is a good example of how we can take back control.”
THE ITALIAN AUTHORITIES HAVE RAIDED the offices of eSurv, a company that produced government spyware that made its way into the Google Play Store in the form of malicious apps.
Motherboard recently reported on the operation, noting that experts thought the apps “may have ensnared innocent victims as the spyware appears to have been faulty and poorly targeted”. Either way, the campaign demonstrates that Google’s filters for keeping malware out of its app store are pretty leaky.