Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SCRIPT-ed Conference: Twitter Madness!

Pangloss is now at the second day of SCRIPT-ed which is, as expected, both fascinating and well attended. Have taken various types of notes and further blawg will emerge. However for meantime , conference is especially notable as hotbed of legal Twittering - check out the search topics button for #scripted.

The last three conferences i've been to - all tech/social media/web affairs - have all had active twittering attendees, which is what has spurred my own current interest in the medium - but this is the first actual LAW conference I recall seeing such activity (also managed via @ahrc_script as aggregating channel). Anyone care to disagree/provide own experience?

My own comments, some more official than others :) can be found at my Twitter account, @lilianedwards and other Twitterers worth checking for here and elsewhere are @technollama (guess who) and @macsithigh (similar) plus ex ORG champion organiser, Becky Hogge, writing as @machine_envy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Stross/Doctorow event, May 1 London

This is well worth advertising- wish I could be there!

Charlie Stross and I are doing a benefit talk for the Open Rights Group on May 1 in London, entitled "Resisting the all-seeing eye." Hope to see you there -- Stross is a ball, and ORG is a damned worthy cause, especially in this era of ubiquitous surveillance.

From technologies like PGP and Tor to the arguments that will convince people - friends and family as well as media and politicians - to watch out for their digital rights, this event is your anti-surveillance 101.

Cory Doctorow - science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist - and Charlie Stross - science fiction writer and former programmer and pharmacist - will share how and why to control your data. The event will be moderated by Ian Brown - academic, activist and Blogzilla.

The entry price is either joining Open Rights Group - by handing door staff a completed form (link to PDF) - or making a one-off £10 donation on the door. Please register for tickets here. Drinks will be available, as is The Three Kings - a local pub - to continue the debate.

What: Doctorow and Stross: Resisting the all-seeing eye
When: 1830, Friday 1 May 2009
Where: Crypt on the Green, St James Church, Clerkenwell, Clerkenwell Close, London, EC1R 0EA - Map

Facebook reaches 200 million members

Interesting graphics from the New York Times on the rise and rise of Facebook: which has doubled its global membership from 100 to 200 million in eight months - quite remarkable.

Some interesting comments on FB's recent concessions towards user pressure to roll back some of FB's changes of terms and conditions, and unpopular redesign of the web interface.

" “It’s not a democracy,” Mr. Cox says of his company’s relationship with users. “We are here to build an Internet medium for communicating and we think we have enough perspective to do that and be caretakers of that vision.” "

On privacy settings, where FB continue merely to allow users to protect themselves, FB admit only around 20% users use any privacy settings.

Most interestingly (in an article which is at points inches away from a puff post) are FB's attempts to present itself not as a provider of intrusive advertising in a private space but as a promoter of a new style of "interactive advertising" which will maintain momentum even as advertising revenues dry up forother providers dependent on ad revenue such as free webmail services.

"Facebook’s approach is to invite advertisers to join in the conversation. New “engagement” ads ask users to become fans of products and companies — sometimes with the promise of discounts. If a person gives in, that commercial allegiance is then broadcast to all of the person’s friends on the site.

A new kind of engagement ad, now being tested, will invite people to vote — “what’s your favorite color M&M?” for example — and brands will pay every time a Facebook member participates.

“We are trying to provide the antidote for the consumer rebellion against interruptive advertising,” says Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and Mr. Zuckerberg’s business consigliere."

..Facebook recently introduced advertising tools to let companies focus on users based on the language they use on the site and their geographic location. So, for example, an advertiser can now tailor a message to the Latino community in Los Angeles or French speakers in Montreal." "

Pangloss sez: sounds like an attempt to repackage the much disliked Facebook Beacon, and step away from the bad press around Phorm in particular and targeted advertising in general. But is it more than puff? Even if users get to vote on their favourite M and M flavour, they will still not get to vote on the conditions under which FB pass on their personal data to third party marketers, despite the ra ra of consultation on the FB principles (see previous post).

Notably FB say they will never charge users for part or all of the FB services despite the credit crunch . However they do not say they will never pass on non-anonymised personal data to third parties, something which is currently barred by their own terms but could change in future (and is not barred by proposed FB Principle 3 either).

On the other hand the idea that users might actually be paid for giving their public allegiance to a product is interesting. Only the other week Pangloss vigorously denied the market would ever support paying for personal data (other than in costs-nothing considerations like air miles and loyalty card points) when it already routinely collects it for free. Maybe this is the first glint of a market sea change?

Full article here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Just has to be quoted

The venerable IPKat has stepped away from his normal utter respectability to nail my also esteemed colleague Geeklawyer:

"The IPKat has a soft spot for the GeekLawyer's Blog. GeekLawyer (left), whose potent combination of outspoken honesty and irredeemably bad taste makes him unquestionably the Jade Goody of the IP blog world, displayed his sensitive side this week with this report and podcast on his friend Bill Patry's SCL talk in memory of the late Sir Hugh Laddie, whose potent combination of pungent wit and guts to deploy it to maximum effect made him ... well, never mind. "

Pangloss is now enriched with Geeklawyer's enormous um ruminations on his blog, Facebook AND Twitter. Shortly he will talk to me in my dreams..

THis has been a Squid Friday production, courtesy of Nat Express Wi Fi and an unexpectedly and gloriously quiet train (hey, credit where's credit due for once. Am I Twittering on Pangloss now? Oh noes!)

Democracy Comes to Facebook?

Facebook is soliciting public comments on proposed new terms and conditions - see

Facebook Principles

Rights and Responsibilities

Pangloss is getting on train to Edinburgh to go to SCRIPT-ed, and will read them then to see if they actually change anything useful. But the sheer act of undertaking such consultation with a 100 million plus userbase, even if it is only PR, is really quite a remarkable landmark in the governance of web 2.0.

Also taking the Database State Report, the Digital Rights Agency consultation and various other reports. There will be blogging!

Finally, I note OUT_Law agrees with me that Google Street View is not illegal though for different reasons. Struan focuses on the recent UK ECHR-based case law on invasion of privacy as "breach of confidence", noting that the JK Rowling case seems to confirm that the UK courts do not recognise a right not to be photographed in a public place unless you, the data subject, are the focus of the camera's attention. Pangloss is less keen on this argument than her own resting on Art 7(f) of the DPD, (surprise), partly because the Art 8 ECHR law is in such flux and partly because it reinforces the data protection equivalent case of Durant which many DP commentators feel was wrongly decided. but it's a good piece : read it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Google Street View - Up Your Street?

Many of my friends and colleagues have been having fun with Google Street View since it went live in the UK last week. My social networking Friends lists are full of people exclaiming "OH MY GOD that's my house!!!" or happily pointing out their car, their garden and in one case, their boyfriend leaning out of the window. Those who live in cities not yet rolled out, bemoan their luck and count how many yards they are from the Googlezone.

Others are not so happy. Privacy International, a well respected privacy watchdog, have already announced their intention to take Google to court on the grounds that they are breaking data protection law, and have made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner.

Says the Beeb, "Privacy International wants the ICO to look again at how Street View works.

"The ICO has repeatedly made clear that it believes that in Street View the necessary safeguards are in place to protect people's privacy," said Google.

Privacy International (PI) director Simon Davies said his organisation had filed the complaint given the "clear embarrassment and damage" Street View had caused to many Britons."

So is G. Street View ("manic street features" as another BBC piece gleefully calls it) the greatest free of cost and publcly available innovation to hit online mapping ever, or another piece in the jigsaw of ubiquitous commercial and government surveillance in the UK?

Pangloss admits to have been far more excited than worried when she first got the news. Google have invested a pretty large amount of effort into protecting privacy, having learnt from earlier protests and roll outs in the US as well as accepting the reality of ldata protection law in Europe. Faces and number plates have been, with some fairly low margin of error pixelated out. There are indeed errors: we have already had reports of people asking to have maps taken down because they depicted them being sick outside a pub or visiting a well known brothel. But Google have also provided an extremely easy to use take-down request system. Have they done enough?

My esteemed colleague Ian Brown of the OII doesn't think so (and repeated these feelings during a brisk debate last night at a post privacy conference dinner :) Said Ian to the Beeb:

"They [Google] should have thought more carefully about how they designed the service to avoid exactly this sort of thing."

Dr Brown said Google could have taken images twice, on different days, so offending images could have been easily replaced and protected privacy better.

Google says it has gone to great lengths to ensure privacy, suggesting that the service only shows imagery already visible from public thoroughfares."

There are a number of ways to frame this debate. One is the question of opt in to privacy, versus opt out. In the same way that Google Library has tried to push copyright discourse from opt in - consnt by authors to copying of their work - to opt out - asking to be left out of the scheme if not wanting copies to be made (and failed - given the recent settlement?) - it is arguably trying to do the same with privacy here.

If privacy is indeed a fundamental human right, then it can be argued that in principle no one should have to be exposed to even a low risk of an intrusion of privacy by error (let's leave the debate on what that exactly is, plus the debate on how far your privacy stretches in a public place, aside for the minute) and then have to request take down; instead`they should always be asked to give consent a priori. This is probably in gist PI's argument as to why what Google is doing is illegal.

In strict law, Pangloss is not really sure if this is right: the UK DP Act (and the EC DP Directive) do not always demand consent to processing of personal data - there is a well known exception which allows processing to be undertaken without consent if it is in pursuance of a legitimate aim of the data processor (Google) and does not at the same time unreasonably prejudice human rights (DPD, Art 7(f)).

A "few dozen" requests seem to have been made for take down, according to the BBC. If we knew how many views there are on GSV we could work out what percent have been privacy invading.It is probably a very very low percent. But is this the right way to construct the Art 7(f) balance? or should we be looking only at the degree of privacy invasion suffered by each individual data subject concerned - how much they lost - their wife, their job?

We need a real debate here about whether privacy invasion should be regarded as purely an individual issue or a societal problem; similarly whether GSV brings advantages to society as a whole (surely?) and do these outweigh the privacy loss to the few individuals. If GSV sparks this debate it will in itself have been of value.

Ian's compromise solution above - essentially, get it right the first time so as to minimise privacy intrustions requiring post factum take down - is a pragmatic one but does not in essence meet the above theoretical problem. It raises another pragmatic problem too - Google has already spent vast amounts providing a fantastic service for free to the UK public. Yes, they wil gain from ad revenue - but this is still an enormous free gift to the public as a whole. How much more money would it be reasonable to ask them to spend to meet the needs of the very few?

Taking two pictures of every location would presumably have doubled costs. Would fewer cities then be rolled out? Would there be more social and digital exclusion? Will rural areas ever be included in fact? and would someone living next to a person who had had "his" street view pulled out by justifiably irritated at his social exclusion? Should the invaded privacy rights of a few be allowed to stifle technological innovation for everyone? If we consider the P2P debate where the same issue arises - should theeconomic interests of the few in the entertainment industries be allowed to stifle useful innovation for the rest of us? - then generally the informed answer is no. There are many more societal cost/benefit balances to be thought about here.

In the meantime, Pangloss is going to go off to yet another workshop to talk about privacy and trust in next generation networks. Do we indeed trust Google to know where we live and to respect our privacy? Most do but some don't, it appears. Yet Google cannot automate, and thus provide at reasonable cost, the amazing services it delivers for "free" , unless we all agree on this in adavance, or at least are presumed to agree, subject to later opt out. This may be becoming a key problem of the digital era :)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Great News Euro GikII PHiles!

"GikII 4, Amsterdam 2009

The fourth installment of GikII will take place on 17-18 September 2009 in Amsterdam, hosted by the Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam, in partnership with Creative Commons Netherlands. "

Yes I have been a bit quiet - I have moved house (yet again.) Lots of stuff coming soon :)

Also apologies to any reader who had planned to see me in Aberdeen this week - this had to be cancelled for a combination of ill health and transport problems. we hope to reschedule next academic year.