Uber is much more than a taxi firm

To most people, Uber is just a cheap and convenient way to get home after a few drinks, but the scope of the business is extraordinary.

While the inclusion of Uber at a broadband conference might have raised a few eyebrows, the overview given by Global Head of Connectivity Rahul Vijay demonstrated the creativity, innovation and stubborn drive which has ensured Silicon Valley and its residents are some of the most influential in the world.

First and foremost, no-one should consider Uber as a taxi company anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. The taxi’s might still account for the majority of annual revenues, but the team is expanding into so many different areas it is difficult to sum up the business in a single sentence.

Aside from the taxi business we all know and love, Uber has a commercial business working with the travel teams at large corporations, the food delivery business unit is solidly position in a fast-growing segment, the team also work with insurance companies to make sure patients make it to their hospital appointments and it is also making promising moves into the freight world. In markets in south east Asia, the team has launched a 2G-compatible app and is also applying the same business model to mopeds and scooters. In Croatia, Uber has launched a boat taxi service.

These are the ideas which are up-and-running or currently being live trialled, though the R&D unit is also playing around with some interesting ideas. Autonomous vehicles, flying taxis and drone delivery initiatives are just some of the blue-thinking projects. This is a company where a lot is going on.

The interesting aspect of the autonomous vehicles is not just the technology but the supporting connectivity landscape.

“Without mobility there is no Uber,” Vijay said at Broadband World Forum in Amsterdam.

Some have suggested that Uber will never be profitable until autonomous vehicles are commonplace through the fleet, though it doesn’t seem to be the technology which is worrying Vijay; connectivity is too expensive today.

The test vehicles which are currently purring around the highways of North America transmit as much as 2 TB of data a day. This is not only a monstrous amount of information to store and analyse, but the economics of taking this data from the car to the data centres is not there. Vijay said it is still by far and away cheaper to transmit this data through optical cables than over the air, which is not practical. Until 5G arrives, and is scaled throughout the transportation infrastructure, autonomous vehicles are not a commercially viable concept for Uber.

This also opens the door up to another very useful revenue stream for Uber. With more than 110 million users around the world, 200 new trips are started every second. These vehicles are travelling through cities, countryside’s and down highways. The amount of information on mobile signal strength or the performance of mobile handoff between cell sites is boggling. These are only two areas, but Vijay suggested there could be hordes of valuable information which could be collected by the vehicles as they fulfil the core primary business objective.

For telcos, regulators, governments or cloud companies, this insight could be incredibly valuable. It could inform investment strategies or encourage policy changes. If data is the new oil, Uber is sitting on a very significant reserve.

As it stands, the company brings in a lot of money, but the prospect of profits are questionable. In the three months ending June 30, Uber revenues attributable to bookings stood at $15.756 billion. The loss from these operations was $5.485 billion. The transportation game operates on very fine margins. Share price has declined by 28% since this earnings call, though there is hope on the horizon.

If Uber can gain traction in the new markets it is pushing aggressively into there will be increased revenues, though in monetizing assets which it creates organically, the data collected from taxi trips, there could be some interesting developments.

Battle for control of connected car ecosystem has not been decided – Renault

It might be slightly unusual to have one of the worlds’ automotive giants presenting at a broadband conference, but despite the odd fit, there were some very interesting points made.

Speaking to Telecoms.com on the side-lines of Broadband World Forum at Amsterdam, Renault’s Chief Sales and Marketing Officers for the services unit Benoit Joly, gave a statement which will come as a tsunami of relief to the telco industry; the battle for control of the connected car ecosystem has not been decided yet.

This has been the worry of many industry analysts and commentators. When a new segment of the digital economy emerges, can the telcos move quick enough to capitalise on the newly created revenues?

A perfect example of this is in the living room. When the idea of the smart home emerged, the telcos got very excited. Here was an opportunity to move beyond the realms of connectivity service provider and into the promised land of digital services provider. However, progress was too slow, and now it looks like the OTTs own this space through their smart speakers.

In this instance, aside from a few rare examples around the world, the telcos have been relegated to commoditised connectivity providers. In the connected car segment, this is not the case, not yet anyway.

As Joly pointed out, there is a space for the telcos in the connected car segment, above and beyond the dreaded utility tag. Renault is of course working closely with the telcos in this fast evolving but still embryonic area, but it is also working alongside the OTTs. Business models are evolving, and services are still being created, this is an exciting area.

The interesting element for the consumer is going to be the seamless nature of the connected car as an element of the wider digital life. The telcos already have skin in the game, as the connectivity provider, however so do the OTTs; the fraternity which owns the customer experience will reap the profits.

From a purely commoditised revenue perspective, there is of course opportunity. Joly highlighted that the car could be seen as an additional element to monetise, though it is not exactly nailed down how. Should connectivity in the car be seen as an extension of existing consumer mobile tariffs or do the telcos wholesale mobile connectivity to the automotive OEMs?

This element of the equation will perhaps depend on who owns the connected car platform and the supporting ecosystem. Should the telcos win out over the OTTs, there will be a lot more influence to dictate the state of play, or perhaps the OEMs would want to wholesale connectivity? The automotive giants do not want their product to be commoditised, therefore this could be a way in which the OEMs add value to customers beyond the point-of-sale of a vehicle.

There are still a lot of moving parts in this fast-evolving segment of the digital economy, and many questions which need to be answered. The OTTs will of course want to own the ecosystem, and the newly created revenues which come with it, however the telcos will be relieved to hear there is still a chance they can move up the value chain in this segment at least.

Google launches a bunch of hardware

Internet giant Google has launched the latest version of its own smartphone, together with a bunch of other stuff, as it continues to expand its hardware offering.

The tagline for the Pixel 4 smartphone is that it’s the most helpful version yet. On the surface this is a reference to Google Assistant, which has been beefed up with even more AI power to ensure it knows what you want before you do, thus sparing you the pain and indignity of having to do things like choose, decide, think, etc.

On those rare occasions when the phone feels the need to consult its owner about their best interests, it’s further assisted by improved speech recognition, which is now largely processed locally. This feature also enables a new voice recorder app that will be able to transcribe in real time – very handy for lazy journalists.

Other than that the Pixel 4 seems to come with all the expected bells and whistles; an improved camera, better chips, etc. You can possibly find out a bit more in the first of the videos below, we’re not sure if the motion sensor will be more help or hinderance. It will ship globally on October 24, costing $799 for the regular one and $899 for one that’s a bit bigger.

On top of that Google also launched some new BlueTooth ear buds, a smart speaker called the Next Mini, a wifi router incorporating the Next Mini called Next Wifi and a new laptop called the Pixelbook Go. Goole has been generous with its YouTube videos for this launch so we’ll let them do the rest of the talking.

 

Italy readies itself for tax assault on Silicon Valley

The Italian Government is preparing to join the UK and France in taking a tougher tax stance against Big Tech with the introduction of a 3% sales tax.

Designed to target the elusive technology giants which have been slipping between the mountains of red-tape to take advantage of cheaper tax destinations, the levy will be based against revenues realised in the market as opposed to tax. While it might be possible to move profits to different markets in the bloc, it is much more difficult to disguise payments taken from individuals who physically reside in Italy.

While it still might be early days in tackling the abuses of the taxation landscape, momentum is starting to gather. According to sources, the new tax regime could be announced during the next budget and set in place January 2020. The new budget from the coalition is due to be submitted to the European Commission today [October 15].

Although details are relatively thin for the moment, take any predictions or leaks with a pinch of salt. It would be fair to assume Italy is heading down the same route as the UK and France in holding Silicon Valley accountable to a fair and reasonable tax position, though due to the complicated political situation in the country, what form this could take is unknown for the moment.

During the 2018 Italian election, no political group or party won an outright majority resulting in a hung parliament. Numerous coalition governments could have been formed, and after a few failed attempts, the centre-left Democratic party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement were sworn in last month.

These policies have been in the works for some time now, though what eventually comes out of the wash remains to be seen. Interesting enough, the failure of this latest coalition could force the country into another election, potentially a new government and perhaps a new line on tackling Big Tech.

That said, the only thing which is clear coming out of this political kafuffle is that Silicon Valley is a target.

Across Europe there are several member states who are becoming increasingly frustrated with the flamboyance of the internet giants accounting departments. There are of course a few who have scuppered a pan-European approach to new digital tax rules, the likes of Ireland and Luxembourg of course benefit from the unfair status quo, though with several member states going it alone, the writing is on the wall for Big Tech.

This is just one element of the changing landscape for tech. Alongside a rethink on tax rules, regulation and legislation governing data, privacy, surveillance, free speech, political advertising and artificial intelligence are in the works. Governments and regulators are attempting to drag bureaucracy and the rulebook into the digital era, and it might be a bit uncomfortable for some of Silicon Valley’s residents.

California proposes strictest privacy rules in the US

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has unveiled new privacy proposals which have the potential to rival the impact of Europe’s GDPR on the digital economy.

When Europe announced its General Data Protection Regulation the digital economy was thrown into chaos. Businesses around the world had to audit monstrous amounts of data, as well as reconfigure business models, data collection procedures and relationships to ensure compliance. The rules being proposed here are slightly different, but Becerra is enforcing a privacy first mentality which might not sit comfortably with some in the digital economy.

There are three components of this proposed legislation to keep an eye-on. Firstly, the consumer has the right to request details on the data being stored by companies. Secondly, they have the right to demand this information be deleted. And thirdly, companies will have to seek consent from the consumer to monetize the data.

“Knowledge is power, and in the internet age knowledge is derived from data,” said Becerra. “Our personal data is what powers today’s data-driven economy and the wealth it generates. It’s time we had control over the use of our personal data. That includes keeping it private.

“We take a historic step forward today to protect Californians’ inalienable right to privacy. Once again, California leads the way putting people first in the Age of the Internet.”

However, before the privacy enthusiasts get too excited, there are some hurdles to negotiate. The original California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has been passed, and will come into effect on January 1, though there have been additional bills passed to water-down the strength of these rules.

Although this will hit some like a bad smell, this is the reality of politics. Lobbyists in the US are incredibly powerful, and they are being fuelled by a very profitable technology industry with a lot to lose. This is not to say the new rules will not make an impact, though they might not be as revolutionary as some would hope when they come into effect.

That said, this will create the strongest privacy legislative regime across the US, ironically, in the home of the company’s who play so carelessly with privacy rights.

Looking at the similarities with GDPR, it does seem there has been some inspiration drawn from the rules. The right to request more information, as well as the right to demand deletion, are two elements which seem to be taken from GDPR. The final element mentioned above is very interesting and we suspect will be the focal point of the lobby efforts as these rules gather momentum.

The inclusion of a ‘Do not sell my data’ link is an aspect no-one in the data-sharing economy will want to see. The industry has largely profited to date through inaction. No-one can do anything about the monetization of data short of refusing to download the app. Consumers are effectively being forced into participating in the digital economy as there are no rules to provide an alternative. This element of the legislation would certainly cause a stir.

Some people will not like the fact companies are making money off their personal data if they are not getting a share of the rewards, irrelevant as to whether they are getting a service for free. Some will object on ethical grounds. Some will reject the concept as the risk of data breaches or leaks is deemed too great. Some will feel uneasy as there are still so many unknowns regarding the darker corners of the world wide web.

Irrelevant as to why an individual might not like the current status quo, as there has been no alternative, it has mattered little. The introduction of an alternative presents a lot of unknown scenarios. More moving parts will have to be factored into risk assessment protocols. It presents uncertainty, which is the enemy of profit.

Interestingly enough, Becerra seems to have learnt the residents of Silicon Valley have very elusive lawyers. Also included in the rules are definitions of those who would be subject to the rules. The company would have to:

  • Have revenues in excess of $25 million
  • Buy, receive, or sell the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices
  • Derives 50% of annual revenues from selling data

These are quite crafty conditions and could potentially cover every type of organization out there. The lawyers will have to be on top-form to find the grey areas here.

The rules still have to negotiate the turns and throws of the political aisles before the digital economy gets too worried, but California is setting the pace when it comes to tackling privacy concerns in the US.

Apple U-turns again to pull HK map app under pressure from Beijing

Apple has removed the crowd-sourced app HKmap.live, favoured by the protesters in Hong Kong, from its local App Store, after being blasted by China’s state media.

The submission of the mapping app, developed on top of the web version which could enable users to instantly track the police movements, among other things on the roads, was first rejected by Apple, on the ground that “the app allowed users to evade law enforcement.” This caused strong protest from both local users in Hong Kong and politicians in the US so Apple reversed its decision and made the app available. The US Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) told his followers on Twitter that Apple admitted it “mistakenly” failed to go through full review process the first time:

Shortly after the change of mind by Apple, the People’s Daily, one of the Chinese Communist Party’s major propaganda outlets, accused Apple of “helping HK rioters engage in more violence”. Apple quickly undertook a second reversal in days to take down the app. The company said in a statement on the decision that the app “has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.” The web version is still available.

This is only one of the latest actions Apple has taken after finding itself caught in a perfect political storm. One day earlier it also removed Quartz, the online news publication, from the China App Store, following complaints from the Chinese government. Apple told Quartz that the app “includes content that is illegal in China”, reported The Verge.

Quartz believed this might refer to its discussion on VPN technologies, the use of which is illegal in China, and its coverage of and links to coverage of the ongoing protest in Hong Kong. Quartz’s website is also blocked by China’s Great Firewall. A week earlier when Apple updated its operating system, iPhone users who set their locale to  Hong Kong and Macau found the Taiwan flag had disappeared from emojis.

This is just one of the highest profile cases of global companies contorting themselves to appease local political interests, with China the centre of attention not the least because of its reputation as one of the most censorious countries, Apple vs. China only epitomises the delicate balance almost all global companies are forced to strike, and not always successfully. Whenever they enter markets that operate very differently to their domestic one, these companies, especially those from North America and Western Europe, have to make a choice between the values of their origin and market pressure.

Increasingly we have seen companies surrender to market pressure, which has led to more either remedial or even pre-emptive self-censorship. Such conflict has a long history in the digital age. Back in 2010, Google pulled out of China when it decided to no longer comply with the latter’s demand for censoring search results. In the same year, India, Indonesia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, among others, demanded access to the encrypted communication carried out by the then king of instant messaging, BlackBerry Messenger, for national security and data localisation purposes. RIM, the then owner of BlackBerry, bowed to the Saudi pressure, and Nokia, who also operated messaging services, decided to set up a local data centre in India.

Recently we have seen Google’s repeated attempts to re-enter China, by offering willingly to censor content to please the Chinese authorities, despite backlashes in its own office. Meanwhile games developer Blizzard had faced a backlash for acting against a Hong Kong protester, as has the US NBA for similar activity.

Teen-focused social app TikTok bans political advertising

TikTok, a video selfie app popular with teenagers, has sensibly decided political advertising doesn’t fit in with its vibe.

For those unfamiliar with it, TikTok is the latest big thing in social media for kids, teens and, presumably, anyone reluctant to move on from that phase. It enables people to make and publish short video clips of themselves on their phones and even splice in other media. It comes over as the best app yet to facilitate the kind of narcissism enabled by the social media connected camera phone.

TikTok’s most popular users seem to be teens doing musical performances or just generally talking to the camera, so it seems to reside somewhere in between Instagram and YouTube. But just as importantly it’s relatively new and unsullied by grownups, so it could well be increasingly supplanting its competitors in the teen market.

Conscious of its user demographic, TikTok is sensibly careful about its commercial deals. The PR consequences of serving ‘inappropriate’ content to kids would be severe and not worth the revenue. The latest such decision has been made regarding political advertising, which everyone knows is often the most bad-faith, dishonest, unpleasant propaganda and totally incongruous in an environment fills with kids just trying to have a bit of attention-seeking fun.

“…our primary focus is on creating an entertaining, genuine experience for our community,” said Blake Chandlee, VP of Global Business Solutions at TikTok, in a recent blog post. “While we explore ways to provide value to brands, we’re intent on always staying true to why users uniquely love the TikTok platform itself: for the app’s light-hearted and irreverent feeling that makes it such a fun place to spend time.

“In that spirit, we have chosen not to allow political ads on TikTok. Any paid ads that come into the community need to fit the standards for our platform, and the nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience. To that end, we will not allow paid ads that promote or oppose a candidate, current leader, political party or group, or issue at the federal, state, or local level – including election-related ads, advocacy ads, or issue ads.

It’s hard to argue with TikTok’s rationale here and we wouldn’t be surprised if some of its competitors rue not making such a decision too. The likes of Facebook presumably make loads of money from political advertising, but it comes with all sorts of baggage and scandal. There’s presumably plenty of money to be made from the ten-specific ad industry and TikTok would be wise to stick to that.

Italy challenges Netflix tax strategy

The Italian Government is investigating Netflix after the streaming giant failed to file a tax return in the country.

According to Bloomberg, an investigation has been opened to ascertain whether Netflix is liable to pay tax in the country. Although Netflix does not have offices or staff in the country, it does own fibre-optic cables and servers. The probe will aim to determine whether this is deemed a presence which makes it liable for tax.

Italy is currently in the process of cracking down on multi-nationals which it deems does not contribute a reasonable and fair amount of tax to the national coffers. Gucci owner Kering SA has already agreed to pay $1.37 billion to settle an investigation, while Mastercard is also facing scrutiny. With such a wide-ranging remit, it was only going to be a matter of time before Silicon Valley was brought into the picture.

While it might be causing political friction with the US, the residents of Silicon Valley are facing more scrutiny when it comes to creative taxation strategies. Owing to the nature of the internet and there being no need to maintain a ‘physical’ presence in some countries, many of the Big Tech fraternity have been employing creative tax strategies for years, paying what some would consider miserly in comparison to the profits made.

Europe has had enough of Big Tech seemingly avoiding paying fair and reasonable tax back to the societies they benefit so richly from, and Italy is just one of the cogs in the machine. The UK and France are two other countries taking a more strident approach, though a bloc-wide approach from the European Commission has been scuppered to date by self-serving members such as Ireland and Luxembourg.

What this does have the potential to cause is greater conflict between Italy and the US.

The relationship between the two is increasingly fraught. Yesterday, the US threatened Italy over any potential relationship with Huawei, while it is also on the verge of imposing new tariffs which would threaten the export of Italian wine and cheese. President Trump has already suggested ‘digital taxes’ are a way of Europe bleeding US success, and we suspect few will be happy with Netflix being targeted here.

What is worth noting is that these are very early days in the probe, though there could be some interesting precedent set. If the government argue correctly that hardware counts as a physical, and taxable, presence in a market, it could open the door for more probes into other internet companies who maintain they do not have a physical presence in a market.

What we are unsure about is why Italy is going down this route instead of taking a similar path to the UK and France. Netflix can be forced to declare how many subscribers it has in the Italian market, and therefore how much revenue it is realising. It seems a much simpler means to success to simply apply a sales tax on the revenue which is being taken from Italian subscribers.

UK, US and Australia demand security delay from Facebook

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.

Europe wants Facebook to implement its censorship requests globally

A new ruling by the EU Court of Justice seems to compel social media companies to enact EU censorship demands even outside of its jurisdiction.

The judgment was made on the case of Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook Ireland, in which the Austrian Green Party politician seeks to force Facebook to remove content that she feels is harmful to her reputation and anything that sounds a bit like it. The court was asked to interpret the Directive on electronic commerce and concluded it doesn’t prevent member states from imposing the following on ‘host providers’, which seems to mean all social media platforms and maybe beyond.

  • To remove information which it stores, the content of which is identical to the content of information which was previously declared to be unlawful, or to block access to that information, irrespective of who requested the storage of that information;
  • To remove information which it stores, the content of which is equivalent to the content of information which was previously declared to be unlawful, or to block access to that information, provided that the monitoring of and search for the information concerned by such an injunction are limited to information conveying a message the content of which remains essentially unchanged compared with the content which gave rise to the finding of illegality and containing the elements specified in the injunction, and provided that the differences in the wording of that equivalent content, compared with the wording characterising the information which was previously declared to be illegal, are not such as to require the host provider to carry out an independent assessment of that content (thus, the host provider may have recourse to automated search tools and technologies);
  • To remove information covered by the injunction or to block access to that information worldwide within the framework of the relevant international law, and it is up to Member States to take that law into account.

In other words, if an EU member state decides a bit of online content should be censored, there’s nothing stopping it legally compelling internet platforms to remove it and anything its algorithms consider to be similar to it on a global basis. This seems to put enormous power of censorship in the hands of EU claimants who can afford to litigate.

“This judgment has major implications for online freedom of expression around the world,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of free speech campaign group Article 19. “Compelling social media platforms like Facebook to automatically remove posts regardless of their context will infringe our right to free speech and restrict the information we see online. The judgment does not take into account the limitations of technology when it comes to automated filters.

“The ruling also mean that a court in one EU member state will be able to order the removal of social media posts in other countries, even if they are not considered unlawful there. This would set a dangerous precedent where the courts of one country can control what Internet users in another country can see. This could be open to abuse, particularly by regimes with weak human rights records.”

As calls for censorship mount, the global policing of speech on the internet is becoming impossibly convoluted. Will the EU now seek to punish Facebook, or whoever, if a bit of content it doesn’t like is accessible somewhere outside of its jurisdiction, and if so how? What if courts in the other country take a different view? As ever the only solution is to not censor in the first place.