In a timely ruling, an Australian court of appeal has upheld a ruling that media are legally liable for defamatory comments made on their public Facebook pages.
The Court of Appeal Supreme Court, New South Wales, made the ruling on the matter of Fairfax Media Publications; Nationwide News Pty Ltd; Australian News Channel Pty Ltd v Voller. The claimant alleged that defamatory comments made on the Facebook pages of a few Australian newspapers were effectively published by the papers, hence they were liable for the criminal harm caused.
“A person who participates in and is instrumental in bringing about the publication of defamatory matter is potentially liable for having done so notwithstanding that others may have participated in that publication in different degrees,” said the ruling. “In this case, the applicants maintained Facebook pages and encouraged and facilitated the making of comments by third parties which when posted on the page were made available to Facebook users generally and were therefore publishers of the comments.”
“The appeal court has shown that Australian defamation law is completely out of step with the realities of publishing in the digital age, and how Australians consume news and information,” said a joint statement from News Corp Australia, Nine and Australian News Channel. “The decision fails to acknowledge that it is Facebook that controls its platform, including that Facebook gives media companies no ability to turn off comments on their pages. It is Facebook that must be held responsible for content posted by its users, not media companies.
“Today’s decision means the media cannot share any story via Facebook without fear of being sued for comments which they did not publish and have no control over. It also creates the extraordinary situation where every public Facebook page – whether it be held by politicians, businesses or courts – is now liable for third party comments on those pages.”
This case cuts to the heart of the matter of liability for anything that appears on social media. In principle it should be the commenter, not the platform or media, that should be liable for defamation, but that fails to take into account the amplifying effect of social media. It is the act of publication, more than the words themselves, that is harmful. So, on those grounds, this ruling seems to say it is the publisher, not the commenter, that is to blame.
The statement from Aussie media is clear that, in the case of social media, they consider the platform to be the publisher. They have a good point, especially since it’s only the social media that has the power to turn off comments. On the other hand, nobody is forcing those media to have a Facebook page at all.
That this ruling coincides with moves in the US to designate social media companies as platforms is especially poignant. Legally, someone has to be held responsible for the publication of illegal content. If media are responsible for material on their own sites, it would seem to be consistent to make social media responsible for theirs. This will probably move to the Supreme Court, where an important legal precedent will be set.
Contact tracing via smartphone is a powerful way to tackle the spread of coronavirus, but it mustn’t be done at the expense of individual civil rights.
This is the dilemma at the core of all attempts to use mobile technology for epidemiological good around the world. Thankfully there is increasing consensus that a decentralized approach, which doesn’t involve tracking the location and movements of individuals, is the best way of balancing those interests.
Leadership on this matter has been shown by the two companies that own the platforms on which nearly all phones run: Google and Apple. A couple of weeks ago they got together to announce a joint effort in this regard and make it available to national governments. Not all of them liked the idea, however, with France demanding Apple loosen its privacy rules for some kind of EU spy app.
France probably hoped its senior partner at the top of The EU, Germany, would have backed its call. But the Germans have always a more pragmatic bunch and, over the weekend, the German government announced it was abandoning the cunning plan unveiled by a bunch of Euro techies at the start of this month, in favour of a decentralised approach, effectively endorsing the Apple/Google method.
To what extent the German decision also contradicts recently-released EU guidelines on this sort of thing will be interesting, but it certainly seems to offer less state access and control over user data than the continental bureaucracy would have liked. In contrast it seems to buy into the concept put forward by UK’s Oxford University, that maintains you don’t need to track location in order to do effective contact tracing.
That might seem counter-intuitive, but only if you think the purpose of such technology is to control the movements of people suspected if being infectious, the sort of thing repressive states like China would have no problem doing in order to lock people in their homes or whatever. The more democratic way is to make a voluntary app available for download, that uses Bluetooth to track other phones that have come near that one. Users of the app can then voluntarily announce their suspected infection in order for those they have been in contact with to be notified.
For example, that seems to be the sort of thing the Australian government has come up with in the form of an app called COVIDSafe. It was only made available yesterday and already has over a million downloads, showing you don’t need to force people to muck in to the collective effort. There have been concerns, however, about the fact that the source code for the app hasn’t been made available, but apparently it will in due course and experts, on the whole, don’t seem worried.
In the absence of widespread testing, using technology to let people know when they have been in contact with anyone who has announced they are showing symptoms seems like one of the best ways to limit the spread of coronavirus in free countries. It’s great to see tech companies, governments and various experts arrive at a best-practice consensus so quickly and we look forward to a UK version of this kind of app being released ASAP.
The Australian Government has promised by July a mandatory code to force Silicon Valley to pay Australian media organisations for content used on their platforms.
Led by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the mandatory code, which will be legislated following its introduction, will ensure money flows from the internet giants to the content creators. Companies such as Facebook and Google have greatly profited by being content aggregators, but without sending profits back to the content creators, the traditional media industry is not sustainable for the long-term.
As part of the new code, the internet companies would have to pay the original content providers for embedding content on the platforms. This could be approached in two different ways; a flat rate up-front for the work done on the article or a commission on the value which is realised by the social media giants for embedding the content on their platform.
“The ACCC, led by Rod Sims, produced an outstanding report which made a number of recommendations, recommendations that the Government has accepted,” said Frydenberg, during a press conference this morning.
“One of those key areas of focus for the ACCC was to develop a voluntary code between the digital media businesses and the digital platforms to govern their relationships. And last year, the Government announced that it hoped a voluntary code would be reached by November of this year. Those negotiations were held, and no meaningful progress was made on the most significant component of which the code was to deal with, namely payment for content.
“In the words of the ACCC, they did not believe that progress would be made, and a deal would be done with a voluntary code.”
Frydenberg made it very clear during the press conference that the Government did not want to step in to place regulation on the media industry, but as it nor the ACCC could see “light at the end of the tunnel” through these negotiations, it was forced to. The industry was given the opportunity to self-regulate, but it appears it was not changing its ways fast enough.
Meeting were being held and discussions were taking place, so it isn’t like the social media giants weren’t turning up, but advice from the ACC said it was unlikely there was going to be an end-result in the foreseeable future, certainly not before the November deadline.
While the internet has disrupted many segments of the world, few have been hit as hard as the media industry. Both in terms of the way in which these companies make money, and how the general public consume news, the landscape is incredibly different from a decade ago.
According to research from UK regulator Ofcom, 49% of adults now get their daily news from social media platforms. This is fine of course, but the way in which these platforms are designed means consumers will only get content which they are likely to find appealing. It creates an echo-chamber, which is more likely to create partisan political environments and stubborn individuals who are less accommodating of alternative thinking.
Social media certainly has a place in educating the public, but traditional media which presents news to consumers irrelevant to their ‘likes’, previous behaviour, advertising preferences and friends also plays a very important role. It is just as important for people to see news which they are not comfortable with.
Ultimately, the driver for this review and code is the need and desire to create a sustainable media industry. This is a critical component of a well-functioning and adequately informed democratic society, though as it stands, competition for advertising dollars is not in a healthy position.
With both the internet giants and traditional media competing for the same digital advertising dollars, the issue is the burden of content creation. As a content aggregator, the internet companies are not encumbered with the mission of creating or paying for content; quality and reliable journalism is not free.
But, a dynamic where two segments are competing for the same advertising dollars, but one acquires content from another for no cost is not a healthy dynamic. Traditional media companies have already had subscription revenues ripped off the spreadsheets, and unless they are adequately rewarded for their efforts, it is a struggle to see many of these titles surviving for the long-term. This is a significant problem for a democratic society which relies on the dissemination of information, analysis by experts and critique of claims.
This is of course a very valid mission for the Australian Government to undertake, as one this Silicon Valley has shown over the years is that its residents do not care about what benefits society when it detracts from profits. These are money machines, and if an initiative does not make more money, it is not important. This is perhaps the only reason the internet companies did not embrace the voluntary code when the option was available.
But what is worth noting is the ACCC will have to take into account failures in Europe.
Various European nations attempted to level the playing field, though these efforts would be considered a failure so far. The Australian authorities believe this is because it was attempted by reforming copyright law, which presented a raft of ripples throughout the industry. One consequence in France was a refusal from the internet giants to display domestic media unless it was for free, though French authorities are investigating whether this is a misuse of market power currently.
The Australian authorities believe the challenges can be avoided by taking a competition approach, rather than copyright. Few details of the thinking behind these claims were offered, though only time will tell. The fact it will also be legislated will add weight to the efforts.
What can be guaranteed however is a fight from the likes of Google and Facebook.
The lobbyists for the internet giants are some of the most active in the political capitals, while the lawyers are some of the most practised in the courtrooms. Silicon Valley generally does not react well to challenges to profits, irrelevant as to whether it is for the greater benefit of society.
The fight will of course delay the introduction of such as code, but this is a critically important move from the Australian authorities to ensure a fair, reasoned, unbiased media industry has a future in democratic societies.
Myriota has recently completed a Series B funding round led by Hostplus and Main Sequence Ventures, raising AUS$28 million in the process.
Specialising in low-cost and low-power satellite connectivity for the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, Myriota has now raised AUS$50 million to date. The team can now list off several high-profile investors, including the South Australian Venture Capital Fund, Singtel Innov8 and Boeing HorizonX.
That said, the most interesting name on the list is former Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull.
“This is a critical time for IoT. Presently, 90% of the Earth’s surface lacks connectivity,” said Myriota CEO Alex Grant. “At Myriota, we’ve been focused on filling that gap and overcoming constraints in existing infrastructure. With this new round of funding, we’ll continue to grow our network of satellites to deliver an affordable, environmentally friendly, and powerful solution to make data accessible for our global customer base.”
The business model for Myriota is to focus on segments of the IOT world which might be considered less interesting to other connectivity providers. These applications, such as keeping tabs on weather stations, are low yielding though Myriota could certainly carve itself a niche.
Myriota claims to have pioneered a new way to retrieve data from anywhere on Earth through the connectivity between its constellation of satellites and low-power IoT modules, enabling it to build a business designed for low-yielding segments of the technology world. However with a smaller constellation than other satellite companies, it will seemingly rule itself out for services and customers who rely on more time and data-intensive operations.
With the new funds, the Myriota management team has said it plans to increase its constellation of satellites to 25 by 2022, and to increase the headcount of the business by 50% over the same time.
The towers transaction in between Telecom Italia and Vodafone has negotiated all the regulatory hurdles, while the Vodafone and TPG merger down under has gotten the US greenlight.
Starting in Italy, the merger between INWIT, Telecom Italia’s tower business, and Vodafone Towers has been approved, and the deed of merger will be effective as of 31 March 2020. The combined tower business will add significant benefits for the development of new 5G networks for both telcos, while the overarching European Vodafone business will receive 360,200,000 shares in the INWIT company.
As a result of the merger, both Vodafone Europe and Telecom Italia will have a 37.5% stake, though the efficiencies which can be realised in developing new network infrastructure in Italy will benefit both parties substantially. A new passive infrastructure sharing agreement will be in-effect once the merger has been completed at the end of the month.
Down in Australia, the Vodafone business has also received regulatory approvals from the from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to merge with TPG in a deal valued at AUS$15 billion.
“Our teams are prioritising support for our customers through the impacts of COVID-19, but we remain focused on progressing the merger,” said Iñaki Berroeta, CEO of the Australian business unit. “This unprecedented situation highlights the need for strong and resilient telecommunications companies to provide the services that Australians rely on.”
After a prolonged, and successful, legal battle with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) who opposed the merger on the grounds of decreased competition in both mobile and broadband, it might sound unusual the team had to seek approval from US authorities.
Thanks to a TPG-owned submarine cable between Sydney and Guam, a US territory, the team was compelled to seek permission to merge from US authorities, though this was a much painless process than the 10-month legal battle with the ACCC. Everything might seem like downhill momentum in comparison now.
Facebook might have thought the headaches of the Cambridge Analytica scandal were firmly in the rear-view mirror, but the Australian Information Commissioner has different ideas.
After 311,127 Australians got caught in the data harvesting saga, the Australian Information Commissioner has finally got to the point where it believes legal action is appropriate. As the This is Your Digital Life app mislead the user as to how the data collected was being used, the Commissioner believes Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are in breach of the Privacy Act, 1988.
“All entities operating in Australia must be transparent and accountable in the way they handle personal information, in accordance with their obligations under Australian privacy law,” said Australian Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk.
“We consider the design of the Facebook platform meant that users were unable to exercise reasonable choice and control about how their personal information was disclosed. Facebook’s default settings facilitated the disclosure of personal information, including sensitive information, at the expense of privacy.
“We claim these actions left the personal data of around 311,127 Australian Facebook users exposed to be sold and used for purposes including political profiling, well outside users’ expectations.”
In disclosing the personal information of 311,127 Australian users to Cambridge Analytica, the Australian Information Commissioner believes Facebook to be violation of Australian Privacy Principle 6. This is due to the fact many of the users did not download the app themselves, therefore did not consent. It is also alleged Facebook protect its users’ personal information from unauthorised disclosure, violating Australian Privacy Principle 11.
While it is not a new revelation, the Australian Information Commissioner is holding Facebook accountable on transparency grounds. The maximum penalty for breach of Australian privacy laws is $1.7 million for each violation.
Although this is unlikely to be welcome news in the Facebook offices, it is of course not the first fine the social media giant has had to deal with in regard to Cambridge Analytica. In the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) fired a £500,000 fine at Facebook, while it took a record $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to resolve a government investigation into its privacy practices.
The Australian Federal Court has overturned a decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), paving the way for Vodafone and TPG to create a converged telco giant.
The ACCC had originally opposed to decision on the grounds of weakened competition, believing TPG would create a mobile offering while Vodafone would expand its broadband offering independently, however the courts disagreed. Both the telcos argued the financials did not add up to pursue convergence strategies independently, with the courts now greenlighting an AUS$15 billion merger after an 18-month wait.
Vodafone and TPG have said the merger is set to be complete by mid-2020, subject to approvals from other regulators and other shareholders, as well as the likely appeal from the ACCC.
“The ACCC’s concern was that with this merger, mobile data prices will be higher than they would be otherwise,” said ACCC Chair Rod Sims. “These concerns were reinforced by statements from the industry welcoming the merger and the consequent ‘rational’ pricing.
“We stand by our decision to oppose this merger. If the ACCC won 100% of the cases we took it would be a sign we weren’t doing our job properly; by only picking ‘safe’ cases and not standing up for what we believe in. The future without a merger is uncertain. But we know that competition is lost when main incumbents acquire innovative new competitors.”
Theoretically, the ACCC has a point, but it has been ignoring some very significant factors. Firstly, deploying a mobile network in a country so vast as Australia is incredibly expensive. Secondly, in banning Huawei as a supplier of RAN equipment, TPG’s business case was undermined. And finally, introducing additional competition and encouraging a race to the bottom does not necessarily create a healthy and sustainable telco industry.
TPG has said continuously over the last few months that without being able to work with Huawei the commercials of deploying a mobile network do not add up. On the increased competition, India and Italy are two markets which have demonstrated more competition and decreased tariffs can eventually lead to a very difficult position.
While it is not guaranteed, there is hope this merger could end up being a positive for the Australian telecommunication market. A merged entity could provide more competition for the Telstra and Optus pair who are leading the market share rankings. Both of these telcos are able to entice customer with bundled service offerings, something which is becoming increasingly popular in the eyes of the consumer. The merged Vodafone and TPG proposition can now theoretically compete on a more level playing field.
“For the first time, Australia will have a third, fully-integrated telecommunications company,” said Vodafone Australia CEO Iñaki Berroeta. “This will give us the scale to compete head-to-head across the whole telecoms market which will drive more competition, investment and innovation, delivering more choice and value for Australian consumers and businesses.”
Competition is certainly not balanced in the Australian market currently. Increased competition might well fragment the market further, creating a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy for Telstra. It might have created more value for the consumer, as the ACCC so strongly insists, but it might have also worked out for Telstra, giving it a stronger position as market share is dwindled for the smaller players.
This ruling by no means guarantees the long-term health of the Australia telco industry, but it does create three converged players, perhaps the most logical position in the pursuit of sustainability.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has taken Google to court over allegations that it misled consumers over the collection of their location data.
The ACCC reckons that from 2017 at the latest Google broke the law when it made on-screen representations to Android users that it alleges misled consumers about the location data Google collected or used when certain Google Account settings were enabled or disabled. In short the ACCC is claiming Google gave users insufficient information to ensure their location data wasn’t collected if they didn’t want it to be.
“We are taking court action against Google because we allege that as a result of these on-screen representations, Google has collected, kept and used highly sensitive and valuable personal information about consumers’ location without them making an informed choice,” said ACCC Chair Rod Sims.
The problem is that Android has multiple settings that need to be adjusted if you don’t want your location data collected and the ACCC is alleging that Google didn’t flag up all of them. That will have resulted in some consumers thinking their location data wasn’t being collected when it still was. At the very least it seems Google has been insufficiently clear in communicating with Android users about this stuff.
Underlying a lot of the current wave of litigation towards internet giants is the desire by regulators and governments to retrospectively address the personal data land grab that characterised the first decade or so of the modern mobile device. Free services such as Android and Facebook have always sought payment in kind through the collection of personal data but have usually been very opaque in the ways they have gone about it. Regulators are now trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Australia’s NBN is a company which has taken its fair share of criticism over the last few years, but it is difficult to argue with the concept as well as the progress which is being made.
Having laid 216,000 km of optical cables, build 27,000 street cabinets and deployed 2,200 fixed-wireless towers across the country, the construction phase of the project is drawing to a close.
“In less than nine months, the major construction component of the NBN network will be complete, on-time and actually on budget,” said NBN CEO Stephen Rue at Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam.
Founded in 2009, the National Broadband Network is a government-funded infrastructure project designed to a deploy nationwide, future-proofed broadband network. Despite being a very logical and worthwhile project, it has attracted considerable criticism both politically and from the media.
Some of the critics will be quietened by Rue’s statement there will be no overrun or overspend, though questions will remain as to whether this was the best way to allocate tax dollars in the first place.
That said, perhaps the answer to this question is the very concept of the initiative in the first place. If private industry was offering the government confidence that connectivity infrastructure would be taken to every corner of the country, the scheme would not have gathered pace in the first place.
And from Rue’s perspective, in a decade this criticism will be completely forgotten. Over the years to come, Australian’s in the less commercially attractive regions of the country will benefit from the infrastructure. Rural locations will be afforded the opportunity to participate in the digital economy, while healthcare and education can also be revolutionised.
This is one of the interesting aspects of Australia as a country. At 7.692 million km², it is the sixth largest country in the world, but with a population of 24.6 million, it is one of the most sparse. Rue pointed to the complications of delivering connectivity across the country when population density is 3 people per km², creating the digital divide which NBN is attempting to bridge.
Some around the world might turn up their noses at the remote healthcare or education usecases which have been championed by the digital enthusiasts, but in a country as vast and sparse as Australia there is genuine potential. However, the network has to be there in the first place.
Many critics of this initiative will point to download speeds which do not match-up with other countries, Ookla ranks Australia as 59th in the world, however Rue has issue with these rankings. According to research which commissioned by NBN, which it claims is a representation of the population on the whole not just those who have access, NBN ranks Australia as having the 17th best connectivity worldwide.
These results have to be taken with a pinch of salt, but perhaps the research will help calm the waves of criticism which are flowing around the country. NBN might be expensive, but in 10 years’ time, Australians will realise this was a very sensible and forward-looking investment.
Perhaps a few other countries will take note, maybe even the US. Although such an initiative conflicts with the capitalist nature of the US, public-funded infrastructure looks like the most realistic means to close the digital divide.
Politicians from the UK, the US and Australia have penned an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting the team delay end-to-end encryption plans.
Signed by UK Secretary of State Priti Patel, US Attorney General William Barr, Acting-Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, the letter requests that before any encryption technologies are applied to messaging services Facebook includes a means for enforcement agencies to access the content transmitted across the platforms.
Once again, politicians are defying logic by requesting the creation of a backdoor to by-pass the security and privacy features which are being implemented on messaging platforms and services.
“We are committed to working with you to focus on reasonable proposals that will allow Facebook and our governments to protect your users and the public, while protecting their privacy,” the letter states. “Our technical experts are confident that we can do so while defending cyber security and supporting technological innovation.”
It is as if the politicians do not live in the real world. We understand governments have a duty to protect society, and part of this will include monitoring the communications and activities of nefarious individuals, but this is not the right way to go about doing it.
Using the argument of security to undermine security and make citizens less secure is a preposterous idea, almost laughable. The ‘technical experts’ might be confident a backdoor can be built, but how do you protect it? This letter is requesting the construction of a vulnerability into security features, and once a vulnerability is there, it is only a matter of time before it is exposed by the suspect individuals in the rotting corners of society.
What is being suggested here is similar to building a high-security facility in the real world, with 15-foot, electrified walls, guards and watch-dogs, helicopters patrolling overhead, but then asking to leave the backdoor unlocked. It doesn’t matter how good defences are, eventually someone will find their way to the backdoor, open it and then let all his/her friends know how it was done. Chaos would eventually find a way.
This is of course a theoretical situation, the hackers might never find a way to or through the backdoor, but why tempt fate? No-one leaves their home believing they might be burgled that night, but they lock the door in any case. Why create a situation where the prospect of chaos is a possibility, irrelevant as to how faint? This seems like nothing more than simple logic.
As mentioned before, police forces and intelligence agencies are being tasked with keeping society safe. This is a very difficult job, especially with the progress of technology. Facebook, and others in the technology industry, should assist wherever possible (and legal), though this is not the right way to go about the situation.
This does put Facebook in a difficult position. The company is currently attempting to repair the damage to its reputation, as well as re-gain trust from both governments and wider society. However, it is increasingly looking like an impossible situation to satisfy both parties.
In March, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined a new focus for the company; it would hold the concept of privacy dear, and all new services will be built with privacy at the forefront of demands. Thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook’s reputation as a guardian of personal information has been severely damaged, thus this new approach is critical to regaining credibility in the eyes of its users.
However, end-to-end encryption is a key element of this privacy strategy. Facebook cannot fulfil its promise to the user and satisfy the demands being laid out in this letter. If it was to build in a vulnerability, it could not tell the user in all honesty it has done everything possible to ensure security and privacy.
As the letter states, Facebook is doing more to clean-up its platform.
“In 2018, Facebook made 16.8 million reports to the US National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) – more than 90% of the 18.4 million total reports that year,” the letter states. “As well as child abuse imagery, these referrals include more than 8,000 reports related to attempts by offenders to meet children online and groom or entice them into sharing indecent imagery or meeting in real life.”
This is the situation which Facebook is in. It is never going to be able to remove all the hideous conversations and activity on its platform, but governments will demand it does. Something will always slip through the net, and the sharp stick of the law will be there to punish the company. Facebook will never be able to do enough to satisfy the demands of governments, and therefore will always be a defensive position.
However, you should not be distracted by the rhetoric which is being put forward in this letter. Yes, there are some horrendous activities which occur on the platform. Yes, Facebook should, and probably could, do more to assist police forces and intelligence services. Yes, the digital economy has largely shirked responsibility in the years leading to today. But no, building vulnerabilities in the system is not the right way forward.
These politicians are saying the right things to gain public support. These actions are in the pursuit of catching child molesters and terrorists; who wouldn’t want to help? But you have to look at the collateral damage. Users would be left open to identify theft, fraud and blackmail. These messaging platforms are used to have private conversations, exchange bank account details and discuss holiday plans. The number of criminals which could be caught is nothing compared to the billions who would be exposed to hackers on the web.
The idea which is presented here does have good intentions, but it pays no consideration to the collateral damage. The negatives of introducing a backdoor vastly outweigh the positives.
Quite frankly, we are still surprised to be having this conversation. Undermining security is no way to improve security. Governments need to understand this is not a viable option.