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China lays out official stance on trade talks with U.S.

Posted by on Jun 2, 2019 in Asia, Beijing, China, fedex, Government, Huawei, Policy, smartphone, Trade war, U.S. China trade war, U.S. government, United States | 0 comments

On Sunday, China released a comprehensive white paper to formalize its positions on trade negotiations with the U.S. The set of statements come as the trade war escalates and Beijing threatens to hit back with a retaliatory blacklist of U.S. firms. Here are some key takeaways from the press conference announcing the white paper:

U.S. ‘responsible’ for stalled trade talks

The “U.S. government bears responsibility” for setbacks in trade talks, chided the paper, adding that the U.S. has imposed additional tariffs on Chinese goods that impede economic cooperation between the two countries and globally.

While it’s “common” for both sides to propose “adjustments to the text and language” in ongoing negotiations, the U.S. administration “kept changing its demands” in the “previous more than ten rounds of negotiations,” the paper alleged.

On the other hand, reports of China backtracking on previous trade deals are mere “mudslinging,” Wang Shouwen, the Chinese vice minister of commerce and deputy China international trade representative, said as he led the Sunday presser.

China ready to fight if forced to

China does not want a trade war with the U.S, but it’s not afraid of one and will fight one if necessary, said the white paper.

Beijing’s position on trade talks has never changed — that cooperation serves the interests of both countries and conflict can only hurt both — according to the paper. CNBC’s Eunice Yoon pointed out that Beijing’s latest stance repeats previous statements made back in September.

Deals must be equal

Difference and frictions remain on the economic and trade fronts between the two countries, but China is willing to work with the U.S. to reach a “mutually beneficial and win-win agreement,” stated the paper. However, cooperation has to be based on principles and must not compromise China’s core interests.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” Wang said.

He said one needs not “overinterpret” China’s soon-to-come entity list, adding that it mainly targets foreign companies that run against market rules and violate the spirit of contracts, cut off supplies to Chinese firms for uncommercial reasons, damage the legitimate rights of Chinese companies, or threaten China’s national security and public interests.

China respects IP rights

The paper also touched on issues that are at the center of the prolonged U.S.-China trade dispute, including China’s dealings with intellectual property rights. U.S. allegations of China over IP theft are “an unfounded fabrication,” said the white paper, adding that China has made great efforts in recent years to protect and enforce IP rights.

Wang claimed that China pays the U.S. a significant sum to license IP rights every year. Of the $35.6 billion it shelled out for IP fees in 2018, nearly a quarter went to the U.S.

Investments are mutually beneficial

The white paper claimed that bilateral investments between the two countries are mutually beneficial rather than undermining for U.S. interests when taken account of “trade in goods and services as well as two-way investment.”

The Chinese government also pushed back at claims that it exerts influence on businesses’ overseas investments.

“The government is not involved in companies’ business activities and does not ask them to make specific investments or acquisitions,” said Wang. “Even if we make such requests, companies won’t obey.”

In response to China’s probe into FedEx over Huawei packages that went stray, Wang assured that “foreign businesses are welcome to operate legally in China, but when they break rules, they have to cooperate with regulatory investigations. That’s indisputable.”

The Shenzhen-based smartphone and telecom giant has been hit hard by during the trade negotiations as the Trump administration orders U.S. businesses to sever ties with the Chinese firm.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Twitter takes down ‘a large number’ of Chinese-language accounts ahead of Tiananmen Square anniversary

Posted by on Jun 1, 2019 in China, Policy, Social, Twitter | 0 comments

Twitter has suspended a large number of Chinese-language user accounts, including those belonging to critics of China’s government. It seems like a particularly ill-timed move, occurring just days before thirtieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4.

“A large number of Chinese @Twitter accounts are being suspended today,” wrote Yaxue Cao, founder and editor of the U.S.-based publication China Change. “They ‘happen’ to be accounts critical of China, both inside and outside China.”

Cao then went on to highlight a number of the suspended accounts in a Twitter thread.

The Chinese government reportedly began cracking down late last year on people who post criticism on Twitter. The author of that story, The New York Times’ Paul Mozur, has also been tweeting about the takedowns, noting that “suspensions seem not limited to accounts critical of China” and that it appears to be “an equal opportunity purge of Chinese language accounts.”

In response, Twitter’s Public Policy account said it suspended “a number of accounts this week” mostly for “engaging in mix of spamming, inauthentic behavior, & ban evasion.” It acknowledged, however, that some of the accounts “were involved in commentary about China.”

“These accounts were not mass reported by the Chinese authorities — this was a routine action on our part,” the company said. “Sometimes our routine actions catch false positives or we make errors. We apologize. We’re working today to ensure we overturn any errors but that we remain vigilant in enforcing our rules for those who violate them.”

By this point, the deletions had attracted broader political notice, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio declaring, “Twitter has become a Chinese govt censor.”

And while Cao acknowledged Twitter’s official explanation, as well as help she’s received from the company in the past, she said, “Per @Twitter’s explanation, it’s cleaning up CCP bots but accidentally suspended 1000s anti-CCP accts. That doesn’t make sense.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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The White House wants to know if you’ve been ‘censored or silenced’ by social media

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Facebook, Policy, president trump, Social Media, trump, Twitter | 0 comments

It’s no secret that the Trump administration has been at war with social media. In the past year, the President has accused several online giants of censoring conservative voices, in particular giants like Twitter, Google and Facebook.

Today, the White House launched a Typeform site aimed at collecting personal reports of social media censorship relating to political bias.

“SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH,” the minimalistic site reads. “Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear ‘violations’ of user policies.”

For those who feel they’ve been wronged in some way by one of the major platforms, the 16 part questionnaire lets you chose from a list including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, while inquiring about specific tweets that were censored or accounts that were targeted. Users can submit screenshots and other supporting evidence and opt in for “President Trump’s fight for free speech” after entering a name, email address, phone number and proving they’re not real by answering a trivia question about the Declaration of Independence (take that, robots).

Trump has made a “shadow banning” and other perceived slights against conservatives voices a key cause in recent months. Last summer, he took to Twitter to address issues with the platform, writing, “Twitter ‘SHADOW BANNING’ prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.”

Late last month, the President met with Jack Dorsey for 30 minutes in the Oval Office, to discuss making Twitter “healthier and more civil,” according to the tech exec. No word on what the White House plans to do with the evidence it compiles.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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G7 countries to sign charter on tech regulation in August

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in G7, Government, Policy, regulation | 0 comments

Digital ministers of the Group of 7 nations are meeting today to discuss an upcoming charter on toxic content and tech regulation at large. Those countries plan to sign a charter during the annual G7 meeting in Biarritz, France in August.

“Everyone has to deal with hateful content,” France Digital Minister Cédric O said in a meeting with a few journalists. “This industry needs to reach maturity and, in order to do that, we need to rethink the accountability of those companies and the role of governments.”

You may have noticed that G7 countries also announced the Christchurch Call today. It is a nonbinding pledge asking tech companies to improve their moderation processes to prevent terrorist content from going viral.

Those two things are separate. The French government views the Christchurch Call as a way to start a discussion with tech platforms and put the spotlight on a particular issue. But the charter should be broader than the Christchurch Call and mention other issues.

And yet, it’s going to be hard to sign a common agreement between such a diverse group of countries. “There are Nordic countries that are very concerned about free speech and there are Latin countries that are pushing for more regulation,” Cédric O said.

In addition to the Group of 7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.), officials from Australia, India and New Zealand are participating in today’s discussions.

The charter won’t define hateful speech too precisely so that countries can interpret that phrase in their own way. But the negotiations should lead to a set of principles that each country can turn into laws.

In particular, officials want to encourage transparency when it comes to moderation processes through audits, as well as increased cooperation between tech companies, governments and civil society.

In December 2018, the Group of 7 nations announced plans to create a global panel to study the effects of AI. Ministers are discussing the implementation of this panel during today’s meeting, as well.

Sources working for the French Economy Ministry say that the U.S. might not sign the charter in August. “We won’t compromise too much — either all countries can agree on a strong stance, or some countries don’t sign the charter,” a source said.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Zuckerberg says breaking up Facebook “isn’t going to help”

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Apps, Chris Hughes, Drama, Facebook, Government, Mark Zuckerberg, Nick Clegg, Policy, Privacy, Social, TC | 0 comments

With the look of someone betrayed, Facebook’s CEO has fired back at co-founder Chris Hughes and his brutal NYT op-ed calling for regulators to split up Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. “When I read what he wrote, my main reaction was that what he’s proposing that we do isn’t going to do anything to help solve those issues. So I think that if what you care about is democracy and elections, then you want a company like us to be able to invest billions of dollars per year like we are in building up really advanced tools to fight election interference” Zuckerberg told France Info while in Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Zuckerberg’s argument boils down to the idea that Facebook’s specific problems with privacy, safety, misinformation, and speech won’t be directly addressed by breaking up the company, and that would instead actually hinder its efforts to safeguard its social networks. The Facebook family of apps would theoretically have fewer economies of scale when investing in safety technology like artificial intelligence to spot bots spreading voter suppression content.

Facebook’s co-founders (from left): Dustin Moskovitz, Chris Hughes, and Mark Zuckerberg

Hughes claims that “Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American” and that Facebook’s rampant acquisitions and copying have made it so dominant that it deters competition. The call echoes other early execs like Facebook’s first president Sean Parker and growth chief Chamath Palihapitiya who’ve raised alarms about how the social network they built impacts society.

But Zuckerberg argues that Facebook’s size benefits the public. “Our budget for safety this year is bigger than the whole revenue of our company was when we went public earlier this decade. A lot of that is because we’ve been able to build a successful business that can now support that. You know, we invest more in safety than anyone in social media” Zuckerberg told journalist Laurent Delahousse.

The Facebook CEO’s comments were largely missed by the media, in part because the TV interview was heavily dubbed into French with no transcript. But written out here for the first time, his quotes offer a window into how deeply Zuckerberg dismisses Hughes’ claims. “Well [Hughes] was talking about a very specific idea of breaking up the company to solve some of the social issues that we face” Zuckerberg says before trying to decouple solutions from anti-trust regulation. “The way that I look at this is, there are real issues. There are real issues around harmful content and finding the right balance between expression and safety, for preventing election interference, on privacy.”

Claiming that a breakup “isn’t going to do anything to help” is a more unequivocal refutation of Hughes’ claim than that of Facebook VP of communications and former UK deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg . He wrote in his own NYT op-ed today that “what matters is not size but rather the rights and interests of consumers, and our accountability to the governments and legislators who oversee commerce and communications . . . Big in itself isn’t bad. Success should not be penalized.”

Mark Zuckerberg and Chris Hughes

Something certainly must be done to protect consumers. Perhaps that’s a break up of Facebook. At the least, banning it from acquiring more social networks of sufficient scale so it couldn’t snatch another Instagram from its crib would be an expedient and attainable remedy.

But the sharpest point of Hughes’ op-ed was how he identified that users are trapped on Facebook. “Competition alone wouldn’t necessarily spur privacy protection — regulation is required to ensure accountability — but Facebook’s lock on the market guarantees that users can’t protest by moving to alternative platforms” he writes. After Cambridge Analytica “people did not leave the company’s platforms en masse. After all, where would they go?”

That’s why given critics’ call for competition and Zuckerberg’s own support for interoperability, a core tenet of regulation must be making it easier for users to switch from Facebook to another social network. As I’ll explore in an upcoming piece, until users can easily bring their friend connections or ‘social graph’ somewhere else, there’s little to compel Facebook to treat them better.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Facebook sues analytics firm Rankwave over data misuse

Posted by on May 11, 2019 in Apps, Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, facebook platform, Facebook Policy, Lawsuit, Mobile, Policy, Social, TC | 0 comments

Facebook might have another Cambridge Analytica on its hands. In a late Friday news dump, Facebook revealed that today it filed a lawsuit alleging South Korean analytics firm Rankwave abused its developer platform’s data, and has refused to cooperate with a mandatory compliance audit and request to delete the data.

Facebook’s lawsuit centers around Rankwave offering to help businesses build a Facebook authorization step into their apps so they can pass all the user data to Rankwave, which then analyzes biographic and behavioral traits to supply user contact info and ad targeting assistance to the business. Rankwave also apparently misused data sucked in by its own consumer app for checking your social media “influencer score”. That app could pull data about your Facebook activity such as location checkins, determine that you’ve checked into a baseball stadium, and then Rankwave could help its clients target you with ads for baseball tickets.

The use of a seemingly fun app to slurp up user data and repurpose it for other business goals is strikingly similar to how Cambridge Analytica’s personality quiz app tempted millions of users to provide data about themselves and their friends.

Rankwave touts its Facebook data usage in this 2014 pitch deck

TechCrunch has attained a copy of the lawsuit that alleges that Rankwave misused Facebook data outside of the apps where it was collected, purposefully delayed responding to a cease-and-desist order, claimed it didn’t violate Facebook policy, lied about not using its apps since 2018 when they were accessed in April 2019, and then refused to comply with a mandatory audit of its data practices. Facebook Platform data is not supposed to be repurposed for other business goals, only for the developer to improve their app’s user experience.

“By filing the lawsuit, we are sending a message to developers that Facebook is serious about enforcing our policies, including requiring developers to cooperate with us during an investigation” Facebook’s director of platform enforcement and litigation Jessica Romero wrote. Facebook tells TechCrunch that “To date Rankwave has not participated in our investigation and we are trying to get more info from them to determine if there was any misuse of Pages data.” We’ve reached out to Rankwave for its response.

Cambridge Analytic-ish

Facebook’s lawsuit details that “Rankwave used the Facebook data associated with Rankwave’s apps to create and sell advertising and marketing analytics and models — which violated Facebook’s policies and terms” and that it “failed to comply with Facebook’s requests for proof of Rankwave’s compliance with Facebook policies, including an audit.” Rankwave apparently accessed data from over thirty apps, including those created by its clients.

Specifically, Facebook cites that its “Platform Policies largely restrict Developers from using Facebook data outside of the environment of the app, for any purpose other than enhancing the app users’ experience on the app.” But Rankwave allegedly used Facebook data outside those apps.

Rankwave describes how it extracts contact info and ad targeting data from Facebook data

Facebook’s suit claims that “Rankwave’s B2B apps were installed and used by businesses to track and analyze activity on their Facebook Pages . . . Rankwave operated a consumer app called the ‘Rankwave App.’ This consumer app was designed to measure the app user’s popularity on Facebook by analyzing the level of interaction that other users had with the app user’s Facebook posts. On its website, Rankwave claimed that this app calculated a user’s ‘Social influence score’ by ‘evaluating your social activities’ and receiving ‘responses from your friends.’”

TechCrunch has found that Rankwave still offers an Android app that asks for you to login with Facebook so it can assess the popularity of your posts and give you a “Social Influencer Score”. Until 2015 when Facebook tightened its policies, this kind of app could ingest not only a user’s own data but that about their Facebook friends. As with Cambridge Analytica, this likely massively compounded Rankwave’s total data access.

Rankwave’s Android app asks for users’ Facebook data in exchange for providing them a Social Influencer Score

Facebook Delays Coming After Rankwave

Founded in 2012 by Sungwha Shim, Rankwave came into Facebook’s crosshairs in June 2018 after it was sold to a Korean entertainment company in May 2017. Facebook assesses that the value of its data at the time of the buyout was $9.8 million.

Worryingly, Facebook didn’t reach out to Rankwave until January 2019 for information proving it complied with the social network’s policies. After receiving no response, Facebook issued a cease-and-desist order in February, which Rankwave replied to seeking more time because it’s CTO had resigned, which Facebook calls “false representations”. Later that month, Rankwave denied violating Facebook’s policies but refused to provide proof. Facebook gave it more time to provide proof, but Rankwave didn’t respond. Facebook has now shut down Rankwave’s apps.

Rankwave claims to be able to extract a wide array of ad targeting data from Facebook data

Now Facebook is seeking money to cover the $9.8 million value of the data, additional monetary damages and legal fees, plus injunctive relief restraining Rankwave from accessing the Facebook Platform, requiring it to comply with Facebook’s audit, requiring that it delete all Facebook data.

The fact that Rankwave was openly promoting these services that blatantly violate Facebook’s policies casts further doubt on how the social network was policing its platform. And the six month delay between Facebook identifying a potential issue with Rankwave and it even reaching out for information, plus another several months before it blocked Rankwave’s app shows a failure to move swiftly to enforce its policies. These blunders might explain why Facebook buried the news by announcing it on a Friday afternoon when many reporters and readers have already signed off for the weekend.

For now there’s no evidence of wholesale transfer of Rankwave’s data to other parties or its misuse for especially nefarious purposes like influencing an election as with Cambridge Analytica. The lawsuit merely alleges data was wrongly harnessed to make money, which may not spur the same level of backlash. But the case further proves that Facebook was too busy growing itself thanks to the platform to properly safeguard it against abuse.

You can learn more about Rankwave’s analytics practices from this 2014 presentation.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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FTC tells ISPs to disclose exactly what information they collect on users and what it’s for

Posted by on Mar 26, 2019 in broadband providers, Federal Trade Commission, FTC, Government, isps, Mobile, Policy, Privacy | 0 comments

The Federal Trade Commission, in what could be considered a prelude to new regulatory action, has issued an order to several major internet service providers requiring them to share every detail of their data collection practices. The information could expose patterns of abuse or otherwise troubling data use against which the FTC — or states — may want to take action.

The letters requesting info (detailed below) went to Comcast, Google, T-Mobile and both the fixed and wireless sub-companies of Verizon and AT&T. These “represent a range of large and small ISPs, as well as fixed and mobile Internet providers,” an FTC spokesperson said. I’m not sure which is meant to be the small one, but welcome any information the agency can extract from any of them.

Since the Federal Communications Commission abdicated its role in enforcing consumer privacy at these ISPs when it and Congress allowed the Broadband Privacy Rule to be overturned, others have taken up the torch, notably California and even individual cities like Seattle. But for enterprises spanning the nation, national-level oversight is preferable to a patchwork approach, and so it may be that the FTC is preparing to take a stronger stance.

To be clear, the FTC already has consumer protection rules in place and could already go after an internet provider if it were found to be abusing the privacy of its users — you know, selling their location to anyone who asks or the like. (Still no action there, by the way.)

But the evolving media and telecom landscape, in which we see enormous companies devouring one another to best provide as many complementary services as possible, requires constant reevaluation. As the agency writes in a press release:

The FTC is initiating this study to better understand Internet service providers’ privacy practices in light of the evolution of telecommunications companies into vertically integrated platforms that also provide advertising-supported content.

Although the FTC is always extremely careful with its words, this statement gives a good idea of what they’re concerned about. If Verizon (our parent company’s parent company) wants to offer not just the connection you get on your phone, but the media you request, the ads you are served and the tracking you never heard of, it needs to show that these businesses are not somehow shirking rules behind the scenes.

For instance, if Verizon Wireless says it doesn’t collect or share information about what sites you visit, but the mysterious VZ Snooping Co (fictitious, I should add) scoops all that up and then sells it for peanuts to its sister company, that could amount to a deceptive practice. Of course it’s rarely that simple (though don’t rule it out), but the only way to be sure is to comprehensively question everyone involved and carefully compare the answers with real-world practices.

How else would we catch shady zero-rating practices, zombie cookies, backdoor deals or lip service to existing privacy laws? It takes a lot of poring over data and complaints by the detail-oriented folks at these regulatory bodies to find things out.

To that end, the letters to ISPs ask for a whole boatload of information on companies’ data practices. Here’s a summary:

  • Categories of personal information collected about consumers or devices, including purposes, methods and sources of collection
  • how the data has been or is being used
  • third parties that provide or are provided this data and what limitations are imposed thereupon
  • how such data is combined with other types of information and how long it is retained
  • internal policies and practices limiting access to this information by employees or service providers
  • any privacy assessments done to evaluate associated risks and policies
  • how data is aggregated, anonymized or deidentified (and how those terms are defined)
  • how aggregated data is used, shared, etc.
  • “any data maps, inventories, or other charts, schematics, or graphic depictions” of information collection and storage
  • total number of consumers who have “visited or otherwise viewed or interacted with” the privacy policy
  • whether consumers are given any choice in collection and retention of data, and what the default choices are
  • total number and percentage of users that have exercised such a choice, and what choices they made
  • whether consumers are incentivized to (or threatened into) opt into data collection and how those programs work
  • any process for allowing consumers to “access, correct, or delete” their personal information
  • data deletion and retention policies for such information

Substantial, right?

Needless to say, some of this information may not be particularly flattering to ISPs. If only 1 percent of consumers have ever chosen to share their information, for instance, that reflects badly on sharing it by default. And if data capable of being combined across categories or services to de-anonymize it, even potentially, that’s another major concern.

The FTC representative declined to comment on whether there would be any collaboration with the FCC on this endeavor, whether it was preliminary to any other action and whether it can or will independently verify the information provided by the ISPs contacted. That’s an important point, considering how poorly these same companies represented their coverage data to the FCC for its yearly broadband deployment report. A reality check would be welcome.

You can read the rest of the letter here (PDF).


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Without federal help, local governments are trying to save coal

Posted by on Mar 12, 2019 in Arizona, Coal, electricity, Energy, Policy, Science, wyoming | 0 comments

Coal truck at a mine.

Enlarge / A truck loaded with coal is viewed at the Eagle Butte Coal Mine, which is operated by Alpha Coal, on Monday May 08, 2017 in Gillette, Wyoming. (credit: Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As the Trump administration’s attempts to save coal have stalled, a record number of coal plants were shut down or scheduled for shut down in 2018.

The federal government has floated extra compensation for coal and nuclear plants, it has tried to use federal wartime powers to mandate that coal plants stay open, and it has rolled back the Clean Power Plan in the hopes that fewer regulations would help coal power plants stay solvent. Still, though, coal plants close and threaten to close largely because coal is more expensive than natural gas and renewable energy, and it’s more cost-effective for utilities and energy companies to retire old plants than to refurbish them.

The federal government is still working to boost coal. In yesterday’s budget proposal, the Trump administration proposed extensive cuts to a variety of renewable and efficiency programs run by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, but it said it wanted to increase the Bureau of Land Management’s coal management program funding by $7.89 million. In addition, the Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development saw a proposed increase in funds by $60 million.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments


Source: Ars Technica

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Online platforms need a super regulator and public interest tests for mergers, says UK parliament report

Posted by on Mar 11, 2019 in antitrust, Artificial Intelligence, competition law, Europe, Facebook, GDPR, General Data Protection Regulation, Mark Zuckerberg, ofcom, online platforms, Policy, Privacy, Social, UK government, United Kingdom | 0 comments

The latest policy recommendations for regulating powerful Internet platforms comes from a U.K. House of Lord committee that’s calling for an overarching digital regulator to be set up to plug gaps in domestic legislation and work through any overlaps of rules.

“The digital world does not merely require more regulation but a different approach to regulation,” the committee writes in a report published on Saturday, saying the government has responded to “growing public concern” in a piecemeal fashion, whereas “a new framework for regulatory action is needed”.

It suggests a new body — which it’s dubbed the Digital Authority — be established to “instruct and coordinate regulators”.

“The Digital Authority would have the remit to continually assess regulation in the digital world and make recommendations on where additional powers are necessary to fill gaps,” the committee writes, saying that it would also “bring together non-statutory organisations with duties in this area” — so presumably bodies such as the recently created Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (which is intended to advise the UK government on how it can harness technologies like AI for the public good).

The committee report sets out ten principles that it says the Digital Authority should use to “shape and frame” all Internet regulation — and develop a “comprehensive and holistic strategy” for regulating digital services.

These principles (listed below) read, rather unfortunately, like a list of big tech failures. Perhaps especially given Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s repeat refusal to testify before another UK parliamentary committee last year. (Leading to another highly critical report.)

  • Parity: the same level of protection must be provided online as offline
  • Accountability: processes must be in place to ensure individuals and organisations are held to account for their actions and policies
  • Transparency: powerful businesses and organisations operating in the digital world must be open to scrutiny
  • Openness: the internet must remain open to innovation and competition
  • Privacy: to protect the privacy of individuals
  • Ethical design: services must act in the interests of users and society
  • Recognition of childhood: to protect the most vulnerable users of the internet
  • Respect for human rights and equality: to safeguard the freedoms of expression and information online
  • Education and awareness-raising: to enable people to navigate the digital world safely
  • Democratic accountability, proportionality and evidence-based approach

“Principles should guide the development of online services at every stage,” the committee urges, calling for greater transparency at the point data is collected; greater user choice over which data are taken; and greater transparency around data use — “including the use of algorithms”.

So, in other words, a reversal of the ‘opt-out if you want any privacy’ approach to settings that’s generally favored by tech giants — even as it’s being challenged by complaints filed under Europe’s GDPR.

The UK government is due to put out a policy White Paper on regulating online harms this winter. But the Lords Communications Committee suggests the government’s focus is too narrow, calling also for regulation that can intervene to address how “the digital world has become dominated by a small number of very large companies”.

“These companies enjoy a substantial advantage, operating with an unprecedented knowledge of users and other businesses,” it warns. “Without intervention the largest tech companies are likely to gain more control of technologies which disseminate media content, extract data from the home and individuals or make decisions affecting people’s lives.”

The committee recommends public interest tests should therefore be applied to potential acquisitions when tech giants move in to snap up startups, warning that current competition law is struggling to keep pace with the ‘winner takes all’ dynamic of digital markets and their network effects.

“The largest tech companies can buy start-up companies before they can become competitive,” it writes. “Responses based on competition law struggle to keep pace with digital markets and often take place only once irreversible damage is done. We recommend that the consumer welfare test needs to be broadened and a public interest test should be applied to data-driven mergers.”

Market concentration also means a small number of companies have “great power in society and act as gatekeepers to the internet”, it also warns, suggesting that while greater use of data portability can help, “more interoperability” is required for the measure to make an effective remedy.

The committee also examined online platforms’ current legal liabilities around content, and recommends beefing these up too — saying self-regulation is failing and calling out social media sites’ moderation processes specifically as “unacceptably opaque and slow”.

High level political pressure in the UK recently led to a major Instagram policy change around censoring content that promotes suicide — though the shift was triggered after a public outcry related to the suicide of a young schoolgirl who had been exposed to pro-suicide content on Instagram years before.

Like other UK committees and government advisors, the Lords committee wants online services which host user-generated content to be subject to a statutory duty of care — with a special focus on children and “the vulnerable in society”.

“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,” it writes, recommending telecoms regulator Ofcom is given responsibility for enforcement.

“Public opinion is growing increasingly intolerant of the abuses which big tech companies have failed to eliminate,” it adds. “We hope that the industry will welcome our 10 principles and their potential to help restore trust in the services they provide. It is in the industry’s own long-term interest to work constructively with policy-makers. If they fail to do so, they run the risk of further action being taken.”


Source: The Tech Crunch

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FCC ‘looking into’ reported error throwing broadband deployment numbers off by millions

Posted by on Mar 7, 2019 in ajit pai, bias probiders, broadband, broadband providers, FCC, Government, isps, Policy | 0 comments

It’s the FCC’s official duty to promote connectivity throughout the U.S., and as part of that it issues a yearly report on improvements to broadband deployment. The latest report, however, seems to contain an error large enough to throw its numbers completely off what Chairman Ajit Pai has already claimed. His office says that they are “looking into the matter.”

The information comes from advocacy organization Free Press, already a thorn in this administration’s side for having pointed out the highly questionable nature of economic claims used to justify the Commission’s new, weaker net neutrality rules.

In a comment (PDF) filed in the upcoming 2018 Broadband Deployment Report’s docket, the organization points out a single huge outlier that vastly, and incorrectly, inflates the numbers of new broadband connections in the country.

These official FCC documents are based on “Form 477” paperwork self-reporting broadband availability, submitted by internet providers abiding more or less by the honor system — which critics already point out is completely a inadequate one on which to base policy.

In the last batch of 477s was one from a company called BarrierFree, an ISP based in the Northeast that was submitting its data for the first time ever. Unfortunately there is a slight discrepancy between the numbers on its form and the numbers in reality.

As Free Press summarizes (very slightly modified for clarity; emphasis theirs):

[BarrierFree] claimed deployment of fiber-to-the-home (“FTTH”) and fixed wireless services (each at downstream/upstream speeds of 940 Mbps/880 Mbps) to Census blocks containing nearly 62 million persons. This claimed level of deployment would make BarrierFree the fourth largest U.S. ISP in terms of population coverage.

We further examined the underlying Form 477 data and discovered that BarrierFree appears to have simply submitted as its coverage area a list of every single Census block in each of eight states in which it claimed service: CT, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VA.

Further investigation strongly suggests BarrierFree grossly misreported its deployment. BarrierFree claims to offer speed tiers topping out at 940 Mbps/880 Mbps in all of its blocks, using both fiber-to-the-home and fixed wireless services. This speed combination is unique to Verizon’s FiOS FTTH service, and Verizon is the only other 477 filer to claim such a speed tier. But according to BarrierFree’s own website, it does not market fiber-to-the-home service at any speed. Furthermore, the maximum advertised speed for its residential fixed wireless service is 25 Mbps symmetrical.

In other words the company claimed to have gigabit speeds going to 62 million people when really, it has 25 megabit speeds at best going to a few thousand. These enormous discrepancies seem to have heavily shifted national averages in the report.

In a statement to Ars Technica, which has followed the broadband report drama closely (including some good analysis last month), BarrierFree COO Jim Gerbig admitted that “There is indeed an error in the Form 477 filings for BarrierFree, and it doesn’t reflect our current level of broadband deployment. A portion of the submission was parsed incorrectly in the upload process.” He claims the government shutdown prevented correction of this issue.

Unfortunately, Chairman Pai, understandably excited to share good news on broadband, already bruited some statistics from the draft report that, if this massively erroneous form were excluded, would be totally incorrect — and incorrect in an unflattering way to the current administration.

Without BarrierFree’s phantom customers, nearly two million more people than reported lack access to fixed broadband – 21.3 versus 19.4 million in Pai’s press release. This is still well below the 26 million from the previous report, but it’s still a major correction. Of 5.6 million newly served rural broadband customers Pai highlights, 2 million were supposedly on BarrierFree.

And a huge reported increase to people on a sub-gigabit but high speed tier (250/50 Mbps) would have been largely attributable to these non-existent connections — tens of millions of them.

While there is surely good news to share from this report, it seems that the good news the Chairman chose to present may in fact not be nearly as good as he claimed.

Activists and government officials alike have questioned the accuracy of previous reports and warned that the incoming one was likely as untrustworthy as those that came before. But this massive single outlier seems like a new and much more avoidable form of inaccuracy.

It seems that in collating and analyzing the forms submitted by ISPs, it would ring a few alarm bells that an ISP with no presence in 2016 would suddenly be serving more than 60 million people with speeds only offered by decades-old competitors. The error is BarrierFree’s to begin with, of course, although I am suspicious of the “parsing” issue blamed by the COO. But surely spotting an error of that magnitude is the FCC’s responsibility.

When contacted for comment, a representative for Chairman Pai’s office said “we are looking into the matter.”

Others were more verbose.

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks was more verbose:

“Free Press’s allegations are troubling,” he said in a statement. “The FCC’s maps are frequently criticized for being inaccurate and overstating broadband coverage. The maps and deployment data are becoming a repeat offender.”

“Without getting to the bottom of this, the FCC should not proceed with its current draft broadband report. It is the FCC’s job to have accurate data and to make available maps based on it. Without performing that basic function, we are woefully unprepared to make a number of critical policy decisions that will impact the future of our communications infrastructure.”

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has spoken out on the broadband report issue recently and been an outspoken critic of the FCC’s policies of late, also called for closer scrutiny:

“The FCC’s draft report concludes that broadband deployment is reasonable and timely across the country. This is hard to believe when millions of Americans have no high-speed service at home. Now there are allegations that the FCC’s numbers in this report may be based on faulty data,” she said in a statement. “This is not good. It absolutely deserves a closer look.”

While the publication of this report was hitherto expected daily, this issue seems likely to push it out by a few weeks at least — and, though it may be too much to hope — could cause the agency to question the basis on which it is built in the first place.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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