Ofcom to investigate 5G conspiracy comments as telco abuse continues

Telecoms infrastructure and staff are becoming the victims of the 5G conspiracy theories as Ofcom launches a full investigation into the short-sighted comments of TV Presenter Eamonn Holmes.

A swarm of celebrities have been fanning the flames of controversy by effectively endorsing conspiracy theories linking the coronavirus outbreak to the deployment of 5G telecoms equipment, and the latest is Eamonn Holmes, Presenter of ITV’s This Morning, a show which regularly attracts more than one million daily viewers.

Holmes has already addressed the statements which were made last week (which were very Trumpesque) but few will pay attention to the retraction. In fairness, Holmes did state he agreed the conspiracy theory was incorrect, but in questioning the validity of mainstream media, conspiracy theorists were given the ammunition needed.

For example, former-BBC Presenter and current-conspiracy theorist David Icke has tweeted support to the short-sighted reference made by Holmes without referencing the fact Holmes stated the conspiracy theory was not true. For those who thrive off half-truths and pseudoscience, Holmes has provided a soundbite to be used as support for inaccurate and false beliefs.

In the pursuit of balance, Holmes has affirmed his position. He does not believe there is any link between 5G and the coronavirus outbreak. It appears Holmes was attempting to present himself as a philosophical thinker, but it was a very amateurish attempt for someone who has such vast experience in front of camera.

As a result of the comments, Ofcom has launched an investigation, “assessing this programme in full as a priority”. 419 complaints were received about Holmes and his ill-advised comments.

Most of the time such baseless and idiotic theories are relegated to the comment boards on Reddit or obscure websites, but for some reason there are individuals who believe the nonsense. It does appear a lack of education into what 5G is and the complicated nature of spectrum is to blame, though the consequences are quite severe.

Over the weekend, BT CEO Philip Jansen complained about physical and verbal abuse which has been directed towards 39 field engineers, and Vodafone has also confirmed its staff have been the victim of abuse. Telecoms Association Mobile UK said there were an additional 20 arson attacks spread over the bank holiday weekend on mobile infrastructure, and it seems the trend is also spreading to Europe as Dutch infrastructure also came under attack.

The consequences are simple. Firstly, the field engineers are not necessarily and very unlikely to be working on 5G infrastructure. These individuals, who have been deemed essential workers, are most likely improving the resilience and reliability of existing networks to ensure the general public can communicate with friends and family during this time of self-isolation, or work from home to keep the economy ticking over.

The second very damaging consequence is to the emergency services. These organisations, which are critical today, make use of the telecoms infrastructure which is being targeted. Amazingly, the arsonists are not always attacking 5G masts (the intended target), sometimes just going for the easiest target which might well house 2G, 3G or 4G equipment, as confirmed by Vodafone.

“Telecoms networks are the backbone that is keeping our vital health, education and emergency services online, and all of us connected to friends and family,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA. “We must keep them safe and secure. It is the responsibility of internet giants, content providers, and social media platforms to continue to ensure disinformation doesn’t jeopardise our connectivity in this emergency situation.”

Although it is frustrating, this is perhaps something we will have to get used to in the short-term. It seems education on 5G is the only thing which will reassure the general public that mobile connectivity is safe, and of course preventing idiots like Eamonn Holmes adding fuel to the fire. The overwhelming majority of scientists have confirmed these conspiracy theories are false, but education takes time.

France continues charge against Silicon Valley

The City of Paris has joined the overarching French battle against Silicon Valley, suing Airbnb for publishing 1,000 illegal rentals adverts.

Over the last couple of weeks, France has become increasingly irked with Silicon Valley. This quest is not from the French government alone, but the anti-internet sentiment seems to be spreading throughout the country.

Here, the City of Paris has lodged its complaints against online marketplace and hospitality firm Airbnb, suggesting the website is illegally advertising properties. According to Reuters, home owners are allowed to rent out their properties for 120 days a year, but the home owner must be registered to ensure compliance.

Several countries around the world have expressed concerns over the impact of Airbnb on local markets, suggesting locals are suffering as profiteers increase housing prices while the traditional hospitality industry is being cripple, but this seems to be one of the first and most aggressive complaints. Paris is suing Airbnb for missing registration details on more than 1,000 adverts. With new national legislation in 2018 provisioning €12,500 per illegal posting, the fine could certainly go north very quickly.

“The goal is to send a shot across the bows to get it over with unauthorized rentals that spoil some Parisian neighbourhoods,” said Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

While this might be a headache for Airbnb, this is just one example of France taking a more aggressive stance against Silicon Valley. Aside from this case, the French tax administration recently managed to get Apple to pay €500 million in back-taxes, data protection regulator CNIL has fined Google for GDPR violations, the country is also attempting to rollout ‘right to be forgotten rules’ worldwide and the French government is pressing ahead with plans to hold internet companies accountable to fair and reasonable tax rates.

The final one is perhaps one of the most interesting cases as it demonstrates a break from Europe. The tax strategies of the internet giants have now become infamous, though Europe wanted to tackle these regulatory oversights as a bloc. With the 28 members states not being able to come to any form of agreement, it had seemed the Silicon Valley lobbyists had won, but France was not done, deciding to go alone with its own 3% sales tax on revenues derived within its borders; the internet giants might be able to hide profits, but they haven’t found a good way to hide IP addresses yet.

While the world is certainly turning against the internet players, thanks mainly to data breaches and privacy scandals over the last 18 months, few countries are taking such an aggressive stance as the French. Considering how friendly some nations are to the internet players (see Ireland and Luxembourg) we can’t see this trend spreading everywhere across the European Union, but it will be interesting to see how many member states are buoyed on by the French foray.