Thursday, February 19, 2009

Facebook U-Turn on New Terms and Conditions

Following Facebook's recent climbdown on their change of terms & conditions to continue claiming a license to use and publish user data even after users delete their profile, here's a few comments from me in New Scientist.

As I said to the interviewer but which failed to get quoted, the real interest in this little storm in a digital tea cup has been in demonstrating what lawyers know but users rarely think of, namely that Facebook can change their terms any time they damn well like, to be more - or usually less - privacy-friendly.

At the moment, FB's privacy policy declares that users only consent to the sharing of their data with advertisers and marketers in anonymised or aggregated form - but there is no reason why that can't change any day to FB selling full details of user's personal data. And given the downturn in the advertising fortunes of web 2.0, and the fact that Facebook anecdotally still makes almost no money despite its huge userbase and is worth far less than was once thought, can that day be far away?

Ownership of personal data and control over user's own generated content are issue that could well be regulated by model clauses in the current boom in Codes of Practice for social networking sites: instead unsurprisingly they tend to concentrate on kiddy safety - see eg the latest EC effort in this direction. THe proposals do however include the useful provision that the profiles of all users under 18 should be set to "friends only" by default. (This ignores the need for protection of adult privacy though.)

In any case, even sales of aggregate anonymised data now pose a danger to privacy which current DP law wholly fails to notice. At the recent Information Security Best Practices conference 2009 run by Wharton College, Pennsylvania, several security expert speakers in te Data Mining and Privacy panel emphasised the improvements in deriving personal data from aggregate data. The bottom line appears to be that anonymised data as a concept is heading for extinction. Interesting times.

(And despite all this Pangloss is still on FB, albeit behind a lot of privacy locks. Do as I say not as I do, kiddoes.)

Schedule update:

24 February , PLC seminar: "Social Networking Sites, Privacy and Other Legal Aspects", sold out but contact for cancellations.

4 March , Aberdeen University Law Faculty, "Phishing In A Cyber Credit Crunch World".

18-20 March, WSRI Web Science Conference, Athens, chairing panel on "“What can Web Science Do for the Privacy of Data Subjects?: Law, Privacy and Data Retention in a Post 9/11 World”

23 March, London, attending Privacy Value Network Advisory Board.

30-31 March: speaking at SCRIPT-ed Governance of New Technologies Conference, Edinburgh

22-23 April: speaking at BILETA 2009 - The 24th Annual Conference, Winchester

That'll do for now:)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When MI5 tell you the state is spying on its citizens too much...

.. they're probably right?

Stella Rimington, our very own real life M, in unlikeliest declaration of support for the forces of light of this or any other week :)

" “It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

It's Sooooooooo GikII!!

I'm very happy to announce that the success of GikII over the last three years has spawned an Australian spin-off, to be known as SoGikII. More details to follow, but here's early warning so you can start saving your pennies:)

Head South, Get Your Geek On - its SoGikII.

SoGikII: Law, Communication Technologies and Culture, is a one day conference to be held on Tuesday 9 June, 2009, in Sydney, Australia, hosted by the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, University of New South Wales.

Past GikII presentations have contemplated knitted Daleks , Roman slaves and robots , data privacy and online hamburger games, and the copyright implications of Buffy-inspired avatars .

All your favourite bits from the Northern-flavoured GikIIs will be on the menu - provocative intellectual debate, incisive legal analysis and lolcats - all dished up with a generous serving of pop culture. GikII noobs be warned: this is a conference with the boring bits left out and the level of 'geek' cranked right up.

SoGikII will be chaired by David Vaile and Alana Maurushat, University of New South Wales, with assistance from Lilian Edwards, Professor of Internet Law, University of Southampton.

So if combining cyborgs, post-structuralism, the absurdity of patent law and beach views sounds like your idea of fun, please email your abstract of 500 words or less to Alana ( and David ( by March 31, 2009. Notification of acceptance will be by email in April. A prize for the best lolcat will also be awarded. "

Meanwhile as SoGikII goes Down Under, Original GikII goes European - with arrangements now almost in place to take it to Amsterdam, hosted by the esteemed institute, the IVIR. We hope this will open up GikII to exciting new Continental scholars as well as the old crew! Exact dates in mid September to be announced shortly.