FCC reveals glacial progress on the resale of location data by operators

US operators have been reselling the location data they accumulate about their subscribers and have been slow to deliver on promises to stop.

This practice was already well-known by the time it was highlighted in an expose at the start of this year. At the time operators were quick to stress that they’re pulling out all the stops to protect their customers’ personal data but Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was apparently skeptical. Frustrated by their deafening silence on the matter she wrote to the four US MNOs at the start of the month to ask them what they were playing at.

Rosenworcel received relatively prompt responses from those operators and decided to publish them alongside a mea culpa that was probably directed more at other FCC Commissioners than herself. “The FCC has been totally silent about press reports that for a few hundred dollars shady middlemen can sell your location within a few hundred meters based on your wireless phone data. That’s unacceptable,” she said.

“I don’t recall consenting to this surveillance when I signed up for wireless service—and I bet neither do you. This is an issue that affects the privacy and security of every American with a wireless phone. It is chilling to think what a black market for this data could mean in the hands of criminals, stalkers, and those who wish to do us harm. I will continue to press this agency to make public what it knows about what happened. But I do not believe consumers should be kept in the dark. That is why I am making these letters available today.”

You can read the contrite and exculpatory responses here, but in case you can’t be bothered here’s a summary. AT&T said it started phasing out this sort of thing in June 2018, while still making location data available in emergencies. Additionally the letter attempted to distance AT&T from the reports in question and said it had stopped sharing and data with location aggregators and LBS providers on 29 March 2019.

Sprint said it current works with just one LBS (location based services) provider but will pack that in by the end of this month. T-Mobile said it had terminated all contracts with LBS types by 9 March 2019 and went on at considerable length to correct what it considers to be flawed reporting on how it used to handle this sort of thing. Verizon said it had terminated all location deals by the end of March 2019.

So that would appear to be that. All the operators have said they don’t deal with location data aggregators anymore and presumably Rosenworcel is a happy Commissioner. But the fact that they’ve only just stopped reselling their customer’s personal data, and even then only after persistent nagging and bad publicity, is a further illustration of how cavalier the tech industry has been with personal data to date.

Facebook selectively bans ‘dangerous’ users

Social media giant Facebook has significantly stepped-up its censorship efforts by banning seven accounts, six of which are often described as ‘far-right’.

Alex Jones, his publication Infowars, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, Paul Nehlen and Louis Farrakhan. Jones and Infowars, of which Watson is an editor, are known more for general conspiracy theories than any specific political stance, while Yiannopoulos is a notorious provocateur, Loomer a political activist, Nehlen a fringe US politician and Farrakhan the leader of The Nation of Islam.

“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” said a Facebook spokesperson in response to our query. The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts.” The ban also applies to Facebook-owned social networking service Instagram.

Further enquiries revealed that all were banned for violating Facebook’s policies against dangerous individuals & organizations. Among the things Facebook considers to be violations include:

  • Calling for violence against people based on factors like race, ethnicity or national origin
  • Following a ‘hateful’ ideology
  • Use of ‘hate speech’ or ‘slurs’, even on other social media sites
  • Whether they’ve had stuff removed from Facebook or Instagram before

There are also two tiers of ban. Facebook told us it usually censors all other users from even praising these banned people and organisations, regardless of context, which implies it does allow criticism of them or indeed neutral commentary. But there’s another tier that covers people who haven’t transgressed according to the criteria above but are still considered ‘dangerous’ by Facebook according to unspecified criteria. They get banned but everyone else is still allowed to say nice things about them if they want and it’s unclear which category each of the banned people fall into, hence whether or not users should avoid saying nice things about them.

Facebook did indicate to us some of the signals that prompted it to take action in these cases. It looks like many of them are being punished for associating with Gavin McInnes, founder of Vice magazine and a provocateur in the Yiannopoulos mould. Jones recently interviewed him, Loomer ‘appeared with’ him and also praised another banned person, Faith Goldy, while Yiannopoulos himself also praised McInnes as well as banned activist Tommy Robinson. Farrakhan has been banned for multiple public statements disparaging Jews.

While all of the people banned have doubtless broken the state rules at some time or other, questions remain about the specificity of those rules and how indiscriminately they’re enforced. According to Wikipedia (not necessarily the most authoritative source but we have to start somewhere) hate speech is defined as ‘a statement intended to demean and brutalize another’.

On the surface this would seem to apply to the majority of discourse over social media, but the definition is typically narrowed to such statements that are deemed to be influenced by race, religion, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. As the Wikipedia page illustrates, every country has its own hate speech legislation, but Facebook has decided to draft its own.

‘A hate organization is defined as: Any association of three or more people that is organized under a name, sign, or symbol and that has an ideology, statements, or physical actions that attack individuals based on characteristics, including race, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, serious disease or disability,’ explains the Facebook community standards page.

If we take these guidelines literally, therefore, you can be abusive on Facebook, as people frequently are, so long as you don’t call for violence or make any reference to the person’s identity. This is obviously a very difficult thing to enforce, leading to concerns that there may be a degree of political or other bias in doing so.

A common example of this cited by those who perceive political bias is the case of Antifa. The name is an abbreviation of ‘anti-fascist’ and it’s a group set up to counter perceived far-right activity. There are, however, numerous reports of this activity involving violence, especially against a group founded by McInnes called the Proud Boys. Antifa has even been labelled a domestic terrorist group in the US and yet many of  its Facebook pages remain unbanned.

The matter of actively campaigning politicians is another hot-button issue. Nehlen seems to be the only member of this newly-banned group to describe themselves as a politician, but in the UK at least two candidates standing in the imminent European elections have had their campaign accounts banned from Twitter due to the individuals in question having already been banned from that platform.

A common response to concerns about selective banning by social media platforms is that they’re private (although publicly-listed) companies and are thus free to ban whoever they please. The biggest problem with this argument is that they have also become the new public square, and the platform from which political campaigns are now largely based.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal hinged on concerns that Facebook had been used to manipulate elections and US President Donald Trump famously uses Twitter as his primary means of public communication. By selectively banning certain accounts social media companies not only open themselves up to accusations of political bias, they also run the risk of directly undermining the entire political process.

Google introduces auto-delete

Privacy is proving to be one of the long-standing themes of 2019 and Google latest move perhaps should be considered an industry standard.

Starting with its Search and Maps products, Google will introduce an auto-delete option for users in the privacy settings. While users will be able to continue to manually delete location and search data held by the internet giant, a new option will soon be available which will automatically delete data after three or 18 months.

“You should always be able to manage your data in a way that works best for you and we’re committed to giving you the best controls to make that happen,” the team said in a blog post.

This is certainly an interesting approach, which could satisfy numerous concerns from all corners of digital society.

Firstly, for the privacy conscious, Google is offering different options for the user to regain control of their personal data. The idea looks simple enough, and relatively transparent. Sceptics will be hunting for a loophole, and quite rightly so, the technology industry has lost the right to credibility when it comes to privacy matters.

Secondly, the retention of data for a short-period of time ensures the Google products can work better. Although popular opinion is turning against hyper-scale personalisation, the advertising machines are making personalisation a dirty word, it is what makes Google’s search engine and mapping product so successful. If Google wasn’t able to train these products to be individualised, they would be pretty generic and awful.

Finally, it still affords Google the opportunity to make money. Privacy concerns aside for the moment, Google still has to be given the opportunity to make money otherwise the products which we have become so reliant on over the last decade will cease to exist. Google is not a registered charity, if it isn’t making money it will no-longer be.

Perhaps the most important factor in this update is the reasonable nature of it. Google is offering terms to the value exchange. It is placing a time limit on its ability to make money from personal data in exchange for offering free services. Admittedly, time constraints are supposedly included in GDPR, though such is the complex and confusing nature of the rules, there are plenty of loopholes and grey areas to expose.

As far as we’re concerned, this is a good move for Google and the digital society on the whole. Yes, Google is perhaps making the best of a difficult situation, claiming PR points by appearing to voluntarily promote privacy in the face of regulatory reform, but it would be nice to see such approaches as industry standard.

On the surface, its reasonable, transparent and fulfils the promise of the digital economy, where Google offers services in exchange for data. Here’s hoping more of the internet giants follow suit.

Apple boss wants more state intervention in tech business

Tim Cook, CEO of the world’s largest tech company Apple, has once more called for greater regulation of the sector.

Speaking at an event organised by Time magazine, Cook said “We all have to be intellectually honest, and we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working. Technology needs to be regulated. There are now too many examples where the no rails have resulted in a great damage to society.”

Now it must be stressed that Cook was referring to privacy and data protection, which happen to be far greater concerns for Apple competitors such as Google, Facebook and Amazon than Apple itself. On the matter of gadgets he was much less strident, noting only that it isn’t Apple’s aim for people to be glued to their devices all the time, which could be interpreted as another dig at its internet competitors.

Cook seems to consider himself a deeply moral person, saying thins like “I’m not sure this is the right thing but I focus on what’s right,” and “At the end of the day we’ll be judged more by did we stand up for what we believed in, not necessarily do they agree with me on everything.” On this basis he seems to reconcile himself to the growing dependence on devices such as those sold by his company by blaming that on the services rather than the devices themselves.

Having called for greater state intervention in the activities of his competitors Cook was quick to stress he doesn’t think companies should get directly involved in politics. “Apple is probably one of the only large companies that doesn’t have a PAC (political action committee). I refuse to have one because it shouldn’t exist. I think the people that should be able to donate are people that can vote.” Those are good points but, as his previous points indicate, there are many ways for tech companies to behave politically.

 

Europe approves new internet rules designed to rein in Amazon and co

As part of the overall Digital Single Market programme, the European Parliament has voted to approve new regulations claiming to protect European businesses and consumers when using online platforms to trade.

The “Regulation on platform-to-business trading practices” has been almost two years in the making since the publication of a document titled “Online Platforms and the Digital Single Market: Opportunities and Challenges for Europe” by the European Commission in May 2016.

The EU executives were understandably happy with the passing of the new rules. “We are delighted by the overwhelming support to the new rules on online platforms’ trading practices among the members of the European Parliament. As the first-ever regulation in the world that addresses the challenges of business relations within the online platform economy, it is an important milestone of the Digital Single Market and lays the ground for future developments. Not only will it improve trust, predictability and legal certainty, it will also offer new and accessible options for redress and resolution of disputes between businesses and platforms,” said the official statement, jointly signed off by Andrus Ansip, the Commission’s Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, and Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society.

What drove the Commission to undertake such an initiative two years ago was the understanding that there is a lack of a redress mechanism when the European SMEs encounter problems when trading on the global platforms (companies singled out include Booking.com, Facebook, eBay, and Amazon), for example, “delisting without statement of reasons or sudden changes of Terms and Conditions”. The Commission has also assessed the effectiveness of legislative vs. non-legislative measures, but believed an EU-wide legislation is necessary.

The Regulation is aimed to achieve three main objectives as are outlined in the Impact Assessment Summary published a year ago:

  1. To ensure a fair, transparent and predictable treatment of business users by online platforms
  2. To provide business users with more effective options for redress when they face problems
  3. To create a predictable and innovation-friendly regulatory environment for online platforms within the EU

Although it has been approved by the European Parliament, the regulation still needs to be formally passed by the Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of the member states and can be roughly seen as another “chamber” of the union’s legislature. There is no definite timeline on when the Council will make the decision. However, by the reading of the press statement where the Commissioners thanked the member states “for their great efforts to reach a good compromise in a very short period of time. This is yet another positive development ahead of the upcoming European elections,” the Council may not be able to vote on it before the European Parliamentary election in May. After the final approval, the regulation will enter into force 12 months after it is published in the Official Journal.

This is the latest internet-related legislation the EU has made recently. On 15 April the Council passed the updated Copyright Directive “fit for the digital age”, which has proved controversial.  There are also legislation and regulation updates in member states. France has started levying 3% income tax on digital companies with sales in excess of €25 million in France and €750 million globally, without waiting for an EU-wide tax regime as part of the Digital Single Market. The UK, still an EU member state at the time of writing, has not only considered setting up a new regulator to oversee the digital world and started the consultation process of a “code of practice for online services” to protect children, but will also formally introduce the “porn block” on 15 July, which has been called “One of the Worst Ideas Ever” by some critics.

UK wants to force internet companies to think of the children

A UK regulator has drafted 16 things internet companies need to do to help protect children online or else.

To be precise it has launched a consultation of a document called ‘Age appropriate design: a code of practice for online services’, but there is little precedent for these consultations resulting in anything other than plan A being fully implemented. It lays down a bunch of rules that anyone providing online services that could be accessed by children – i.e. nearly all of them – need to do.

“This is the connected generation,” explained Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “The internet and all its wonders are hardwired into their everyday lives. We shouldn’t have to prevent our children from being able to use it, but we must demand that they are protected when they do. This code does that.

“The ICO’s Code of Practice is a significant step, but it’s just part of the solution to online harms. We see our work as complementary to the current focus on online harms and look forward to participating in discussions regarding the Government’s white paper.”

There are many conceits and Orwellian aspirations implied in those two short statements, not least the inference that the government could prevent children from being able to access the internet if it wanted to. But then nobody’s in favour of harm are they, so surely this is all for the best. Here’s a summary of the 16 commandments.

  1. Best interests of the child

Protect them from any conceivable harm but you’re still allowed to make money so long as you do that.

  1. Age-appropriate application

If you can stop kids accessing your stuff then don’t worry about all these rules.

  1. Transparency

Provide clear privacy information, including ‘bite sized’ explanations at the point at which use of personal data is activated that kids can understand.

  1. Detrimental use of data

Don’t use kids’ data in a way that might be detrimental to them.

  1. Policies and community standards

Implement your own policies.

  1. Default settings

Privacy settings must be ‘high’ by default be difficult to change. Reset existing user settings accordingly.

  1. Data minimisation

Only collect the minimum amount of data you need to provide your service.

  1. Data sharing

Don’t share kids’ personal data unless you’ve got a really good reason to do so.

  1. Geolocation

Switch it off by default unless you’ve got a really good reason not to and even than make it clear that it’s on.

  1. Parental controls

Let kids know when their parents are keeping an eye on them.

  1. Profiling

Turn it off by default unless you’ve got a really good reason not to and even then think of the children.

  1. Nudge techniques

Don’t try to persuade kids to lower their privacy protections and don’t use things like reward loops to keep kids engaged. This could even include ‘likes’.

  1. Connected toys and devices

All this applies to them too.

  1. Online tools

Give kids tools to protect themselves online and make them prominent.

  1. Data protection impact assessments

A bureaucratic process to demonstrate you’ve complied with these rules.

  1. Governance and accountability

More bureaucracy to show you’ve done what you’re told.

“If you don’t comply with the code, you are likely to find it difficult to demonstrate that your processing is fair and complies with the GDPR and PECR,” warns the consultation document. “If you process a child’s personal data in breach of this code and the GDPR or PECR, we can take action against you.

“Tools at our disposal include assessment notices, warnings, reprimands, enforcement notices and penalty notices (administrative fines). For serious breaches of the data protection principles, we have the power to issue fines of up to €20 million or 4% of your annual worldwide turnover, whichever is higher.”

Some of the above points, such as 3, 5 and 14 seem perfectly sensible, but taken all together this initiative seems designed to massively increase the bureaucratic burden on nearly all internet companies. As ever the largest ones can just call on their compliance departments to mitigate the restrictions and keep the companies out of trouble. Small ones, however, may have to just impose age restrictions.

In that respect this seems like an extension of UK porn block law, which Wired does a good job of picking holes in below. At the very least this sort of thing is great news for VPN providers. The announcement coincides with  the European Copyright Directive clearing its final hurdle, so before long everyone will be able to access the internet secure in the knowledge that nothing bad will ever happen to them.

 

As Facebook fails once more Zuck faces rebellion from activist investors

All Facebook sites were down once more yesterday, which coincides with Facebook shareholders calling for its founder to have less control over the company.

According to Bloomberg this marked the third time this year the social media giant has suffered a major outage. Not just Facebook, but Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger were all affected by the outage, reminding everyone just how much social goodness is controlled by just one company. Facebook doesn’t seem to have said anything other than a brief, generic apology.

It has been widely observed that this increased incidence of outages coincides with Facebook’s decision to merge its various messaging apps onto one platform and put a greater emphasis on privacy a month or so ago. There is definitely some merit in that revised strategy and it wouldn’t be surprising if it caused some service disruption, but if so why not just come out and admit it?

One reason may be Facebook’s increasingly restive shareholders. In a recent filing ahead of its annual shareholders meeting Facebook listed a proposal calling for all stock to have equal voting power. The central issue is that Class B stock, which isn’t publicly traded, has ten times more voting power than regular Class A stock. By bizarre coincidence Founder Mark Zuckerberg owns enough, apparently, to have a majority in any shareholder vote.

“Since July 2018, Facebook value dropped as much as 40% due to management and Board decisions that have not protected shareholder value,” opened the supporting statement. “By allowing certain stock more voting power, our company takes public shareholder money but does not provide us an equal voice in our company’s governance. Founder Mark Zuckerberg controls over 51% of the vote, though he owns only 13% of the economic value of the firm.”

Facebook’s share price went down the toilet after it reported rubbish numbers in in the middle of last year. Having peaked $217 just before those earnings it plunged to a nadir of $124 by Christmas, but has since recovered to $179 – an 18% drop – which is close the pre Cambridge Analytica peak. So the claim that bad management decisions have diminished shareholder value seems weak.

And while the disproportionate influence of these Class B shares does seem unfair, they have been in place since the IPO and anyone buying Class A shares will have been aware of them, so it seems somewhat disingenuous for such stockholders to suddenly start crying now. Having said that if Facebook keeps dropping the ball we can expect to see such calls increase in frequency and intensity, however futile they may be.

Uber sheds light on operations ahead of IPO

Uber is not a company which shares huge insights into its business traditionally, but a filing ahead of a planned IPO has unveiled some very interesting details.

In chasing its long-awaiting debut on the New York Stock Exchange, the curtain has been pulled aside and the cogs laid bare. $11.27 billion in revenue across 2018, 42% growth on 2017, net income of $997 million and 91 million active users around the world. This is a company which will attract some interest from the market, though an adjusted EBITDA loss of $1.85 billion might concern some.

“Building this platform has required a willingness to challenge orthodoxies and reinvent – sometimes even disrupt – ourselves,” said CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. “Over the last decade, as the needs and preferences of our customers have changed, we changed too. Now, we’re becoming different once again; a public company.”

With an IPO comes a lot more information on a company as executives attempt to woo potential shareholders. The S1 form filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission has unveiled some very interesting details.

Starting with the customer base. Uber currently has 91 million active users across 700 cities around the world, though this number also include Uber Eats. This is a 33% increase compared to the previous year as the numbers show increasing momentum over the last three years.

With a presence in 63 countries, Uber estimates it serves roughly 2% of the population across this footprint, clocking up 26 billion miles in journeys across the year. This might sound like a monstrous number, though it is in fact less than 1% of the total, with the team pointing to significant headroom for growth. In fact, Uber estimates the total addressable market is a $5.7 trillion opportunity in 175 countries.

On the R&D front, Uber has been very aggressive, investing $1.5 billion across 2018 in autonomous vehicles, flying cars, which is known as Uber Elevate, and other ‘technology programs’. The autonomous and flying cars portion of the pie was $457 million. Future tech will clearly play a significant role in the future of the business, with some suggesting the firm will not make a profit until autonomous vehicles have been integrated into operations.

At the end of the final quarter of 2018, Uber estimates there are roughly 3.9 million drivers on the platform, earning $78.2 billion since 2015. In 2018, Gross Bookings grew to $49.8 billion, up 45% from $34.4 billion in 2017, while revenues grew 42% to $11.3 billion. Clearly the drivers are the biggest expense of the business, though with autonomous vehicles there will major challenges alongside the profit gain.

“Along the way to a potential future autonomous vehicle world, we believe that there will be a long period of hybrid autonomy, in which autonomous vehicles will be deployed gradually against specific use cases while Drivers continue to serve most consumer demand,” Uber stated in the filing. “As we solve specific autonomous use cases, we will deploy autonomous vehicles against them.

“Such situations may include trips along a standard, well-mapped route in a predictable environment in good weather. In other situations, such as those that involve substantial traffic, complex routes, or unusual weather conditions, we will continue to rely on Drivers.”

The future might be autonomous, but that dream is likely to be a very long-time away. For drivers that might be worried about becoming redundant, there are some glimmers of hope. Autonomous vehicles will take a long-time to be accepted across the mass market, some customers will refuse to use them in the first instance, while certain situations will continue to demand human intervention; the technology simply isn’t there yet.

While there are rumours about the total valuation of the company, some are suggesting a $100 billion target while others point closer to $120 billion, Uber executives are remaining quiet.

Politics is broken, and the net neutrality conflict proves it

The sceptics and cynics might be right; politics is nothing but pageantry and theatre with the idea of serving the greater good dying with the invention of teeth whitening services.

Yesterday saw the House of Representatives, of which the Democrats have a majority, pass the pompously named ‘Save the Internet’ bill by 232-190 votes. This bill proposes the re-introduction of net neutrality rules, undermining and unravelling the equally pompously named ‘Restoring Internet Freedoms’ Order introduced in June last year.

For the Democrats, this vote will be chalked up as a victory, but ultimately it is a sign politics is broken and the General Public is getting screwed by self-righteous and self-serving politicians.

“The House’s vote to re-instate net neutrality reflects the will of millions of Americans who made their voices heard that they don’t want their costs of using the Internet to go up unfairly, they do not want their freedom to be constricted, and that if they should decide to start up a business, they deserve to be on an equal playing field with their larger competitors,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The passing of this bill is nothing more than a symbolic gesture. It is a metaphoric ‘F*ck you’ to the Trump administration and the Republican party. But it achieves very little. Republican Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell has already stated the bill is “dead on arrival” when it hits the floor of the Senate, and even in the unlikely scenario it does pass, the White House has already promised a Presidential Veto, what would be the second during Trump’s tenure.

The Democrats already knew this bill would fail to pass one of the legislative hurdles, or if they didn’t they should have their heads examined but maintained course. It might be considered an act of defiance, but in reality, it simply clogs up the legislative machine, ensuring no progress is made to better the lives of everyday US citizens.

If the Democrats cared about protecting and enhancing the lives of US citizens, actions would have been taken to offer more of an opportunity for the bill to pass. Not only would this be progress, it would also not deny another worthy bill time for debate. As it stands, there is not much more than a net loss for the US citizens.

Such is the partisan state of politics in the US, the idea of concessions is preposterous. The objective is no-longer to improve the lives of US citizens through innovative and considered legislative action, but to entertain and rouse.

Even the names of the bills are geared towards theatre. The ‘Save the Internet’ bill or ‘Restoring Internet Freedoms’ Order should make any reasonable individual cringe, such is the transparent nature of the propaganda, but it makes a great sound bite when preaching to the converted at political rallies.

Another bill further undermines the futility and self-serving nature of the Democrat quest.

The ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act is a Republican piece of legislation, first proposed by Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, which appears to be a middle-ground between the two parties. Blackburn is a slightly unusual Republican politician, having supported many net neutrality rules in the past, and the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act represents that. However, the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act is struggling to gain support in the Democrat controlled House of Representatives.

The Act effectively works in two ways. Firstly, it prevents the telcos from blocking lawful content, applications and internet traffic, and also stops them from degrading the performance of any services. However, it does allow the telcos to offer premium transmission services to customers, effectively creating a virtual toll road. Those who want to improve customer experience can pay to have their traffic sped up.

This is by no-means a perfect piece of legislation, several other abuses of net neutrality concepts are still possible, though it does venture more towards the middle-ground which is the healthiest position. As it stands, the Democrats heavy-handed regulation is too far one direction, while the Republican ideal of a wild-west internet is too far the other. A middle-ground is needed.

This Act does prevent the telcos from penalising enterprise customers, effectively holding them to ransom through slower speeds, but allows them to offer premium services. Telcos are commercial organizations who have spent billions deploying faster networks and should be afforded the opportunity to monetize their investments. The current status quo, with the OTTs getting somewhat of a free-ride, creates an unbalanced equation which should not be allowed to continue. Biting the hand that feeds you is only sustainable for a short period of time.

The Democrats argue that this bill rewards the rich, Netflix for example, and prevents any start-ups from mounting a challenge. These start-ups would never be able to afford the virtual toll road, therefore would not be fighting Netflix on an even playing field, as the streaming giant can pay for better customer experience. There is some credibility to this argument, but others would suggest this is also market dynamics of a capitalist economy. Critics will argue, however many of these individuals are in comfortable positions because the US is a capitalist society.

In theory, the telcos could create a mediocre service and a premium one, with the former being sub-standard enough to force customers into paying for the virtual toll road. This could be the fear from some Democrats, and one of the areas the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act falls short.

Perhaps this is where more regulation is needed, as it is an omission from the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act. Introducing rules which limit the virtual toll roads to a 25% premium on the standard service would be a happy middle-ground, allowing the telcos to create value added services, but theoretically protecting the market from abuses.

When arguing the benefits of the ‘Save the Internet’ bill, the Democrats seem to have forgotten to mention a number of the bill’s features are already written into the ‘Open Internet Preservation’ Act. Republicans want to protect consumers from traffic throttling and blocking, but this position does not fit nicely into the Democrat rhetoric which has been built around the idea that the Republicans light-touch regulatory environment is designed to screw Joe Bloggs.

The majority of the argument is based around the definition of the telcos, but this is not a debate which interests the consumer therefore needs to be ‘sexed up’. The Democrats want a Title II designation, a common carrier or utility, where as the Republicans want Title I, a communications service and therefore shielded from more stringent regulation. This is the crux of the net neutrality argument.

When you break the argument down, have a look at what protections are already being afforded to US citizens, strip away the political propaganda and emotional baggage, this debate seems to be more about defying the Republican stance than achieving anything beneficial for the consumer.

What is wrong with the middle-ground? It would certainly be representative of the majority of attitudes across the US, but it is hardly going to attract PR inches and photoshoot opportunities for those pearly whites. Politics is broken and there’s nothing the sensible or reasonable can do about it.

Facebook placates Europe for now

In a bid to keep the European Commission off its back social media giant Facebook is admitting to its users that they’re the product.

Despite this being the media business model since the first newspapers were printed, the EC seems to think making Facebook spell out its business model represents some kind of progress. Those few users that even care will now be able to find some kind ‘digital media for dummies’ guide buried somewhere in their Facebook details. This is probably a product of all the faux outrage expressed when it was revealed that politicians can use Facebook for targeted advertising before elections.

This thrilling new section of Facebook will also clarify the nature of the implicit contract users enter into with Facebook when they post stuff, as well as clarify the rules for removing posts and suspending accounts. Facebook has vowed to be a bit more reasonable when it comes to unilaterally changing its Ts and Cs, and to admit its liabilities when it comes to things like Cambridge Analytica.

“Today Facebook finally shows commitment to more transparency and straight forward language in its terms of use,” said Commissioner Vera Jourová. “A company that wants to restore consumers trust after the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica scandal should not hide behind complicated, legalistic jargon on how it is making billions on people’s data. Now, users will clearly understand that their data is used by the social network to sell targeted ads. By joining forces, the consumer authorities and the European Commission, stand up for the rights of EU consumers.”

If this is all Facebook has to do to get the EC off its back then Mark Zuckerberg must be laughing himself sick right now, pausing only to sign off a massive pay rise for Nick Clegg. Companies like Google and Microsoft have probably already written to the EC, asking why they weren’t given the ‘publish some clarifications’ option before getting fined into next week. While this seems to have temporarily placated the EC, Facebook’s minimal gesture seems useless to its users.