WELCOME to Connected Rights, your mids in the tone 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. Willkumme!
FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE ALLEGEDLY USED HARD PRESSURE tactics last year to water down the EU’s “fake news” self-regulatory guidelines, according to some members of the expert group that informed the rules.
“There was heavy arm-wrestling in the corridors from the platforms to conditionalise the other experts,” one participant told OpenDemocracy. BEUC’s Monique Goyens talked about “blackmail” being deployed when she and other members suggested that competition law enforcement could play a role in stemming the spread of disinformation. She said Facebook’s chief lobbyist, Richard Allan, “threatened that if we did not stop talking about competition tools, Facebook would stop its support for journalistic and academic projects.”
Facebook claimed this was “a deliberate misrepresentation of a technical discussion about the best way to bring a cross-industry group together to address the issues around false news”.
More from the piece: “‘The Google people did not have to fight too hard for their position, ‘ says another group member, speaking on condition of anonymity. ‘It quickly became clear that they had some allies at the table.’
“At least 10 organisations with representatives in the expert group received money from Google. One of them is the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, at the University of Oxford. By 2020, the institute will have received almost €10m from Google to pay for its annual Digital News Report. Google is one of 14 funders of this major project, which began in 2015. The institute declared this funding relationship to the European Commission in its application to be part of the expert group.
“A number of other organisations represented on the group have also received funding from the Google Digital News Initiative, including the Poynter Institute and First Draft News.”
THE EU’S DIGITAL SINGLE MARKET COMMISSIONER, Andrus Ansip, had thoughts following a meeting of G7 digital ministers, at which the fight against extremist content was top of the menu. He tweeted that “over-removal of content is a real concern”. He’s right – putting automated systems in charge of filtering out hate speech and other extremist content could easily go wrong, with people’s right to free expression being trampled all over.
All of which also applies to the new EU Copyright Directive, which will (as we all know by now) effectively mean tech firms have to use automated systems to filter out potential copyright violations – a step that experts say will definitely lead to over-blocking and accidental censorship. The directive was enthusiastically championed by… Andrus Ansip. It’s not a great look to say these filters are fine for enforcing copyright but not for fighting extremism and hate.
GOOGLE HAS A NEW ANTITRUST CASE TO WORRY ABOUT, and this time it’s about the automotive world, with the company’s opponent being the Italian power giant Enel.
Enel has an app that lets electric-car drivers find charging stations in its network, but Google refuses to integrate the app into its Android Auto system, meaning Enel’s app can’t run on a car’s dashboard. What can run on a car’s dashboard, showing where to find charging stations? Google Maps, which gives Google all the data about usage, rather than letting Enel at the data. Google claims it’s shutting out Enel’s app for safety reasons; Enel maintains that it built the app according to Google’s own guidelines and, as it’s entirely voice-operated, there is no safety risk.
The Italian competition authority carried out dawn raids late last week, and is investigating on the basis that Google’s Android dominates the phone market – this could be an example of Google using that muscle to try to take over another market. The preliminary probe will take up to a year.
HOW HAS THE FIRST YEAR OF THE GDPR GONE? According to data from the European Data Protection Board, “over 144,000 queries and complaints and over 89,000 data breaches have been logged by the EEA Supervisory Authorities. 63% of these have been closed and 37% are ongoing.”
And on the awareness front: “The increase in queries and complaints confirms the perceived rise in awareness about data protection rights among individuals, as shown in the Eurobarometer of March 2019. 67% of EU citizens polled indicated that they have heard of the GDPR, 36% of them indicated that they are well aware of what the GDPR entails. In addition, 57% of EU citizens polled indicated that they are aware of the existence of a public authority in their country responsible for protecting their data protection rights. This result shows an increase of 20 percentage points compared to 2015 Eurobarometer results.”
AN IMPORTANT NEW FACIAL RECOGNITION CASE HAS begun in Wales. A chap called Ed Bridges says his human rights were breached by images of his face being captured from a police van camera. “By the time I was close enough to see the words ‘automatic facial recognition’ on the van, I had already had my data captured by it,” he told the BBC. “That struck me as quite a fundamental invasion of my privacy.”
Bridges is being backed in the case by the civil liberties organisation Liberty, which likens automatic facial recognition to taking people’s DNA or fingerprints without their consent – except facial recognition is not regulated as well as DNA or fingerprint collection are. This case could help fix that.