UK sets wheels in motion for a more secure digital world

The UK Government has announced plans to introduce new security and privacy rules to ready the country for a flood of IOT devices.

The rules, at consultancy stage currently, will create a new standard for security, hopefully protecting consumers from the pitfalls of the unknown when it comes to the connected economy. Like many other aspects of today’s society, much regulation and legislation has been designed for a by-gone era, with many consumers unaware of the dangers of the digital economy. Such redesigns should not only create a relevant rulebook, but force providers and device manufacturers to consider security as more than an afterthought.

“Many consumer products that are connected to the internet are often found to be insecure, putting consumers privacy and security at risk,” said Digital Minister Margot James. “Our Code of Practice was the first step towards making sure that products have security features built in from the design stage and not bolted on as an afterthought.

“These new proposals will help to improve the safety of Internet connected devices and is another milestone in our bid to be a global leader in online safety.”

The ‘Secure by Design’ code of practice addresses the security oversight. Not only will security have to be built into the foundation of products and services, but firms will have to be more engaging with the consumer when it comes to security. It will force some brands and companies to extend the relationship with the consumer beyond the point of purchase, which for many in previous years, had been the end.

As part of the scheme, manufacturers who meet the criteria set forward will be able to include a label on packaging and advertising to help consumers identify products that have basic security features and those that don’t. It will create a much more transparent approach to security, and potentially make security a factor in the buying process. This in turn will ensure companies think of security as more than simply a bolt-on process at the end of product or service design.

“Serious security problems in consumer IoT devices, such as pre-set unchangeable passwords, continue to be discovered and it’s unacceptable that these are not being fixed by manufacturers,” said National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) Technical Director, Dr Ian Levy.

“This innovative labelling scheme is good news for consumers, empowering them to make informed decisions about the technology they are bringing into their homes.”

Although some might see this process as nothing more than a bit more red-tape to navigate, these are the companies which are likely to be under the greatest financial pressure and therefore those who will be more likely to do security a dis-service. Ultimately, this move should be viewed as nothing but a good thing.

With more of our day-to-day lives becoming digital, the dangers of the online world increase. The ‘Secure by Design’ code of practice not only creates more protections for consumers but brings the rule-book into the digital era. In the past we might have complained regulations and legislation are inadequate for today’s world, but progress is being made. Slowly, but surely.

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.

A post-Brexit Ofcom worries us – Vodafone

With the anti-China rhetoric dominating the headlines in recent months, Brexit chatter has become unfashionable. But with the deadline fast approaching, what will Ofcom look like in the future?

Speaking at a breakfast briefing in London, Vodafone UK Chief Counsel and External Affairs Director Helen Lamprell let loose on the UK regulator. Cell tower height, rural roaming, potential reintroduction of international roaming charges, dark fibre and auction dilemmas, there seemed to be a lot of venting going on.

“The UK remains a challenging environment [regulatory], one of the most challenging in the world,” said Lamprell. “But we are seeing positive change.”

The issue which Vodafone is keeping an eye-on is Brexit. According to Lamprell, Ofcom is one of the most conservative regulators throughout the bloc, though when it is freed from the tethers of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), there is a risk it could become even more so.

There isn’t necessarily one massive bugbear from the telco, but several little aggravations which all combine to a much larger nuisance. Let’s have a look at mast height to start with.

Everyone wants signal, but no-one wants towers

As it stands, UK cell towers are limited to 25 metres in height. This obviously doesn’t take into account those masts which are placed on the top of buildings, just the actual structure itself. In most cases, this doesn’t have a massive material impact on operations, such is the population density of the UK, but when you look at countryside locations it becomes a much larger discussion.

Part of the up-coming 5G spectrum auctions will place coverage obligations on telcos. This is a reasonable request by the government, as telcos have shown they will not bridge the digital divide on their own, though as it stands 99% of the UK population is currently covered. Geographical coverage is no-where near this figure, though as there is little commercial gain from providing coverage to these remote locations, reaching the 90% objective is difficult.

One way which this could be done is by providing exemptions to the 25-metre limit in certain situations, such as the countryside, as CTO Scott Petty pointed out, for every 10-metres you go up the coverage ring is doubled.

All four of the major UK MNOs (EE, O2, Vodafone and Three) are meeting with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) this afternoon, and this will be a point on the agenda. Should these exemptions be granted, it opens the door for shared infrastructure also, as the main cost of these structures is civil engineering and construction, not the equipment on the tower. Both of these developments combined would aid the telcos in reaching the geographical coverage objectives.

This brings us onto another interesting point raised by Lamprell, rural roaming.

My restless, roaming spirit would not allow me to remain at home very long

“Rural roaming takes away our incentive to invest,” Lamprell said. “It’s a really, really dumb idea.”

Three are one of the companies pushing for rural roaming, but as the Vodafone team points out, it is the only MNO which hasn’t built out its rural infrastructure. However, should rural roaming be introduced it would cause a stalemate for investment.

As Petty points out, why would any MNO invest in its own infrastructure when it could force its way onto a competitor’s? All the telcos would be sitting on the starting line, waiting for another to twitch first, such is the pressure on the CAPEX spreadsheet column when investing in future-proofed infrastructure.

Moving onto the international roaming question, Vodafone is staying pretty agile right now. As it stands, the status quo will be maintained, though the team will react to the commercial realities of a post-Brexit landscape. Currently, as a member of the European Union, Vodafone is protected from surcharges when it comes to termination charges, though those protections will end with Brexit.

Vodafone has quite a significant European footprint, in most cases there is little to worry about, but for those territories which fall outside the Vodafone stomp, negotiations will have to take place.

There are several countries, Estonia is an example, which has higher termination rates than the UK. If the reality of a post-Brexit world is Vodafone is swallowing up too many charges from international calls/SMS/data, roaming charges might have to re-introduced in certain markets. This is all very theoretical currently however Ofcom will prevent Vodafone from replicating these charges from the European nations. Vodafone is sitting and waiting for the realities of Brexit right now, though it will not be a broad-brush approach.

“Our position today is to maintain the position we are in, but we will have to evaluate the situation at the time,” said Lamprell.

Ignore Luke, the Dark Side is great

Dark fibre. It used to be a popular conversation, but everyone seems to have forgotten about it recently.

Not Lamprell.

The focus of Ofcom over the last 12 months or so has been on opening-up ducts and poles, and while this certainly is progress, it only addresses part of the problem. Dark fibre is an aspect of the regulatory landscape which could add significant benefits to the industry but has seemingly become unfashionable.

Dark fibre, fibre cabling which is not currently being utilised by Openreach, could answer the backhaul demands of the increasingly congested networks quickly and efficiently. Mainly as it is already there. There is no need to dig up roads, apply for planning permission or procure new materials, it could be as simple as flicking a switch.

Openreach resistance and Ofcom’s aggressive focus on ducts and poles is perhaps missing a trick.

Going, going, maybe not yet

The UK is currently in somewhat of an unusual and unprecedented situation. It is one of the nations leading the world into the 5G. This is not to say it is in a podium position, but compared to the 4G era, the UK is sitting pretty.

Part of the reason for this has been early auctions to divvy up spectrum assets, however, moving forward there are some irregularities which is causing some head-scratching.

Later this year, Ofcom will kick-start another auction which will see 120 Mhz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8 GHz bands, as well as 80 MHz in the 700 MHz band go up for sale. For both Lamprell and Petty, this auction doesn’t make sense. These are two bands which will be used for different purposes (coverage and speed) so why auction them off together.

If Vodafone had known this was going to happen back in April 2018, during the first spectrum auction, it might have altered its strategy.

“We could end up with a very fragmented spectrum situation,” said Petty.

From the team’s perspective, it seems Ofcom has only just woken up to the coverage demands of the UK government, and is using this auction as a blunt tool to meet the objectives. From an engineering perspective it doesn’t seem to make much sense to Vodafone.

“We are not happy with the rules,” said Lamprell. “But it’s rare for us all [MNOs] to be happy.”

Looking good but looking suspect

The UK is currently in a good position ahead of the 5G bonanza from an engineering perspective. With test hubs being set up around the country and telcos who are acting proactively, the UK looks like an attractive environment to invest in for R&D. It is by no-means leading the global 5G race, but it is in a healthy position.

However, political and regulatory uncertainty are a threat to this perception. The activities and culture of both DCMS and Ofcom over the next couple of months will has a significant impact on the 5G fortunes of the UK, as well as the ability to attract new talent, companies and investment.

Trump’s Huawei executive order not much more than a power play

Rumours are swirling around Washington DC suggesting President Donald Trump is on the verge of signing another executive order, this one the final blow to Huawei’s US ambitions.

While the document itself will actually have very little impact on Huawei’s business, it is more of a symbolic blow to the kit vendor, as well as other Chinese businesses looking to exploit the riches of the Land of the Free. While the rumours were originally reported last week, by the time you get back to the office on Monday the order may well have been signed.

In a single signature, Huawei, a representation of China’s ambitions in the global technology and telecommunications industry, could be officially and explicitly shut out of the worlds’ largest economies.

Although details on the executive order are limited to rumour and hearsay for the moment, officials have stated this order will not impact electronics companies or products which incorporate Chinese components. This is a political move to demonstrate the power of the US. Trump is making a statement to China; look at what I can do to one of your flagbearers.

As it stands, Huawei’s involvement in US communications infrastructure is pretty minimal. T-Mobile US CEO John Legere has very publicly stated his business will very much avoid using Huawei equipment, while back in August Trump signed the Defense Authorization Act into law which effectively banned any meaningful work Huawei or ZTE could do in the US.

Huawei’s, and ZTE to a lesser extent, condemnation has become nothing more than a symbol of US dominance on the technology world. Trump is posturing, demonstrating what will happen to anyone who challenges the US leadership position. Over the last few months, US delegations have been visiting governments around the world to pitch the idea of a ban, admittedly with varied success, though there have been some willing to listen. Banning ZTE from using US components or IP brought the firm to the brink of extinction. The US forced Canada to arrest the Huawei CFO. A lot of this is a demonstration of power.

This is of course a complex and rich tapestry, and there are numerous intertwining and independent narratives going on. Some of it will be political, some economic, some espionage assumptions will be true and there will be validity to accusations of a government-influenced unfair playing field. This is an incredibly complex matter. But look at what the executive order actually is.

Huawei is already incredibly limited in the US, the damage to ambitions has already been dealt, this is chest beating from Trump.

White House congratulates itself for catching AI bug

President Trump is set to sign several bills into law, each of which aims to stimulate US ambitions in future technologies and productivity.

While the lion’s share of the attention will be directed towards artificial intelligence, there are other bills which have been slipped in including advanced manufacturing and Quantum Information Science. One of the more important groups which is emerging from this announcement, the National Council for the American Worker, is perhaps the one which will get most over-looked though.

“I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future,” Trump said in a White House statement. “This is not an option. This is a necessity.”

Focusing on the National Council for the American Worker for the moment, this is an area where the US could genuinely prove itself to be forward-looking, instead of focusing on aging buzzwords.

The top-line aim for the Council will be to craft the masses to ensure they are suitably qualified and positioned to reap the benefits of tomorrow’s society. This means investigating how curriculums can be altered to ensure the right skills are being offered to young people, but also awareness campaigns to generate an understanding of what will be required of young people in the world of tomorrow.

What is less clear is the impact on the people of today. This is not directly covered in the press jargon, though there is an objective for the Council to work with the private sector to ensure the skills chasm is reduced. The White House has not said it directly, though this is pretty much as close as any government has come to recognising technologies such as AI are not going to be beneficial to everyone in today’s society.

Government rhetoric surround AI has been pretty consistent around the world. Firstly, AI will create wonderful products and services for consumers, and secondly, it will make businesses more profitable, creating new job opportunities. This might be true, but no-one has recognised there is going to be pain.

People will be made redundant. Jobs will be lost to software, automation and consolidation. Some people will not be suitable candidates for the newly created roles. These scenarios are utterly unavoidable. Unless government recognise this pain, nothing can be done to adapt to it. If nothing is done, there will be elements of society who will be left behind, qualified for roles which no longer exist. Governments have to wake up and be mature.

Elsewhere the President has unveiled a National Strategic Plan on Advanced Manufacturing and has also signed the National Quantum Initiative Act into law. Quantum Information Science is an area which seemingly fits perfectly into the Silicon Valley mould, looping back around to the semiconductor revolution which spurring the region into action decades ago. With 5G on the horizon encouraging exceptional growth in computing power, this is a segment which will almost prove critical in the future.

The framework is there for some potentially beneficial legislation, though we’ll see how this plays out. It could create a forward-looking landscape however it might just create a landscape which says its forward-looking.

US raises suspicions of Chinese influence in Eastern Europe

The US Department of State has raised concerns over Chinese presence in Eastern Europe as a potential danger for corruption and government espionage ambitions.

During a briefing ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Budapest, Bratislava, Warsaw, Brussels and Reykjavik, two administrative officials fielded questions over the objectives of the roadshow. Russia and China featured heavily throughout the briefing, though Eastern Europe has been highlighted as a potential source of problems for the US.

“The short answer is yes, we are more concerned about the Chinese presence, the Huawei presence in Central and Eastern Europe than in Western Europe,” a senior official said in a briefing. “I should be clear that, of course, we see this as being problematic across the board, but I think what sets Central and Eastern Europe apart is you have a large number of mostly small and midsize states that – many of whom have a higher propensity to corruption.

“And so I think from a Chinese perspective, they see in Central and Eastern Europe EU member-states – I think 12 out of the 16 members of 16+1 are EU memberships or EU member-states. So they see relatively small countries with a recent history of communism with significant pathways of corruption that lend themselves more readily to state penetration in key sectors, and then they have a springboard to operate within EU fora.

“And all you need to do is look at the success that the Chinese have had importing individual Eastern European member-states of the EU to block the EU on things like recognition of the human rights problem in China or a support for the US position in the South China Sea.”

While these accusations are more broad than simply the telecommunications industry, Eastern Europe has been a field of success for Huawei and ZTE in recent years. With perhaps more lax rules and less paranoid governments than the more ‘developed’ nations across the bloc in years gone, recent events will certainly not make for pleasant reading.

Aside from the suspicion this trip has been seemingly designed to turn the Eastern European nations against China, an arrested Huawei employee in Poland appears to have turned the country against China. After several informal conversations about the saga, there does seem to be a general feeling Poland is marching towards an official ban in line with the US.

The Poland issue is somewhat of an interesting one as the government would have to weigh up the benefits of keeping its US ally happy alongside the societal benefits of being Huawei-friendly. Poland is effectively the Eastern European HQ of Huawei, with the firm employing roughly 900 people across the country. A ban would rid of the country of these jobs, as well as any notable investment and also the in-direct employment Huawei’s presence stimulates in other businesses.

The US wants to remain the leading economic superpower of the world, and this aggression against Chinese international expansion seems to be one of the strategies to maintain this position. It isn’t necessarily doing much to hide these tactics or ambitions, but that doesn’t seem to matter; they are working.

China 5G ambitions might hit a Brussels speed bump

The boresome bureaucrats of Brussels have finally gotten back from lunch and there might just be a 5G ban for Chinese companies on the menu before too long.

According to Reuters, the EU officials are considering drawing up new rules which would effectively ban any participation from Chinese companies in the up-coming 5G bonanza. Although there have certainly been some dissenting voices across the bloc over the last couple of months, a bloc-wide ban would be scaling up the anti-China rhetoric more than a few incremental steps.

Officials would almost certainly state any changes would be made for the greater good and are not targeted at a single nation, but that statement is increasingly difficult to swallow. There are a couple of different strategies to achieve the anti-China goal, but the Brussels brunch brigade will certainly have to get a move on if they are to make an impact.

5G is just around the corner and the groundwork is being laid for the lean, mean networks. Purchases will be made in the near future, but with this air of uncertainty flowing out of the Brussels waffle shops, some telcos might be hesitant to charge forward. What’s the point in potential purchasing and deploying equipment if the rosy-cheeks regulators are going to make you tear it out of the network?

The European Commission wants Europe to lead in the digital economy, but for this to happen the connectivity infrastructure needs to be up to scratch. The telcos need consistency and certainty when it comes to policies if they are to spend billions. The Flemish food fanatics are hardly known for their agility but for the European digital economy to remain on-track any significant changes to the regulatory landscape will have to be set in stone sharpish.

Now you start to get a feel for the problem. Who knows what conditions will be put into place with new policies, especially if the public service ponderers want the wording to appear generic enough so China cannot accuse the bloc of targeting it specifically. The gluttonous government officials will have to skip a few free lunches and get a move on.

But how could the covetous civil servants ban Huawei sorry China sorry nefarious bodies from contaminating the 5G goldmine?

The first suggestion is rumoured to be an amendment to a 2016 cybersecurity law to heighten the security requirements for any company which wants to contribute to critical infrastructure. Germany is reportedly making similar amendments to heighten requirements, but to protect itself and also allow Chinese companies to participate. You can only assume any altercations at a European level would not be as welcoming, targeting companies who could potentially be influenced (irrelevant of any concrete evidence) by a nefarious government.

A second suggestion would be more related to procurement processes, though the gaggle of red-tapers will have to be careful here. Whenever regulators and legislators attempt to influence commercial processes too much there is often resistance from the private sector.

The revelation will certainly be of interest to the US, which has done its best to turn the world against the country which is challenging the Land of the Free for global supremacy. While government intervention might sound like a bit of a contradiction for a country which so proudly promotes the concepts of market freedoms and capitalism, we have stopped keeping check on how mental the US is becoming.

But perhaps this was the long-game from the US all along. It bans Chinese companies sharpish and then moves onto plant the seeds of doubt elsewhere knowing other countries would take a more considered and evidence-based approach to such a massive decision. With the Europeans dithering, the US can race ahead with 5G deployment, attract the most innovative companies to establish R&D sites within its own border and all of a sudden it dominates the 5G economy just like it dominates 4G now.

Whatever the outcome, uncertainty is the enemy of progress. If they ban Chinese companies or if they don’t, the bureaucrats need to decide quickly. Regulations need to be set in stone to allow the telcos to consider all the implications and make commercial decisions. Uncertainty is only going to stutter rollouts and damage the influence of Europe on the digital economy.

And for Huawei, 2019 seems to be going from bad to worse.

Court rules companies can be sued for collecting biometric data without consent

A reminder of how quickly the technology world evolves; it’s not only regulations which need to catch-up, but business practices too, as a Supreme Court opens the door for privacy lawsuits.

In an interesting case, the Supreme Court of Illinois has set precedent for its Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). Companies who have not appropriately obtained consent from individuals before storing biometric data can now be sued under the BIPA without said individual being damaged, fraud for example, by the scenario. The ruling makes BIPA a dangerous piece of paper, as effective use of the Freedom of Information Act could put a few in precarious positions.

This case, Rosenbach versus Six Flags, has pinned a 14-year-old against the amusement park for collection and storage of thumbprint data without informed consent. The BIPA prohibits companies from gathering, using, or sharing biometric information without informed opt-in consent, though the issue which the Supreme Court has been considering is whether there are grounds for a lawsuit without damage being inflicted to the user.

“Contrary to the appellate court’s view, an individual need not allege some actual injury or adverse effect, beyond violation of his or her rights under the Act, in order to qualify as an ‘aggrieved’ person and be entitled to seek liquidated damages and injunctive relief pursuant to the Act,” stated Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier in his decision.

But why is this a dangerous decision for businesses locating or operating in Illinois? Because business practises are not keeping up with the tsunami of data which emerging, and many companies do not have fully visibility into the data which they hold.

One of the problems we saw in the build up to General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe was an understanding of what data companies actually had their hands on. With the 21st century’s version of a land-grab seeing companies scrap for as much information as possible through the last decade, few companies actually managed to effectively store and categorize.

Before any company can consider calling themselves complaint (under GDPR, BIPA or any new data-orientated regulations) a full data audit would have to be completed; this discovery process was a critical step in the process. In conversations over coffee, a few consultants told us this was a significant issue for UK companies. During the audit, some were finding they were holding onto sensitive data, which they had no idea existed, and were in violation of data privacy and protection regulations.

BIPA is a no-where near as wide-ranging as some data protection and privacy regulations, though we suspect there will certainly be numerous companies who are now non-compliant under this new ruling and precedent. This is the issue with technology; it’s moving so much faster than the red-tape bureaucrats. Technology is implemented before regulations governing the usage, or business practises to ensure compliance, can be deployed. It creates a dangerous position where companies could be non-compliant without even realising.

In Illinois, as there no-longer needs to be proof of damages to individuals anymore, effectively placed Freedom of Information Acts could see similar cases brought in-front of the courts. In the rush to remain relevant through embracing technology, few have considered the boring aspect of regulation. Who would, considering how long it takes the courts to catch-up? But this is a case where being cutting-edge technology is a two-edged sword.

Lobbying on the up as Silicon Valley feels the regulatory squeeze

The internet giants have started filing their lobbying reports with the Center for Responsive Politics with records being shattered all over the place.

Each quarter US companies are legally required to disclose to Congress how much has been spend on political lobbying. Although the figures we are about to discuss are only for the US market, international players will certainly spend substantially more, it gives a good idea of the pressure which the internet players are facing. Governments are attempting to exert more control and Silicon Valley doesn’t like it.

Looking at the filings, having spent $4.9 million in the final three months, Google managed to total $21.2 million across the whole of 2018, a new high for the firm. This compares to $18.3 million spent across 2017.

Facebook is another which saw its lobby bill increase. In its latest filing, Facebook reported just over $3 million for Q4, and totalled almost $13 million across the year. In the Facebook case it should hardly be surprising to see a massive leap considering the scale and the depth of the Cambridge Analytica scandal which it has not been able to shake off.

More filings will be due over the next couple of days, the deadline for the fourth quarter period was January 22, though the database search tool is awful. What is worth noting is this is set to be the biggest year for internet lobby spend, however it is still nothing compared to the vast swathes which are spend elsewhere.

Lobby tableIn total, the internet industry might have spent a whopping $68.7 million on lobbying Washington over 2017 (2018 data is still not complete), but that is nothing compared to more mature industries. The Oil and Gas segment spent $126 million, while Insurance pumped $162 million into the lobbyists pockets, but the winner by a long was the pharmaceutical industry spending an eye-watering $279 million on lobbyists across the year (see image for full list).

As you can see, the ceiling has been set very high for lobbying and it will almost certainly increase over the next couple of years. All around the world governments and regulators are attempting to exert more control over the internet industry, and while the lobbying process isn’t necessarily attempting to block these new rules, the aim will be to get the best deal possible.

In comparison to other industries, the internet specifically and technology on the whole is relatively new. You have to take into account the internet as a mass market tool is only in its teen years and is demonstrating the same rebellious tendencies as young adults do. New ideas are being explored and boundaries are being pushed; with some breakthroughs rules do not exist, while the emergence of new business models means companies fall into the grey areas of regulation. The internet has been operating relatively untethered over the last few years, though this is changing.

2018 was a year where it all started to hit home. Countless data breaches demonstrated the digital world is one where security has not been nailed, while data privacy scandals have shown how dated some regulations are. It doesn’t help that Silicon Valley seems to operate behind a curtain which only the privileged few are allowed to peak behind, but even if this barrier was thrown open, only a small percentage of the world would actually understand what was going on or how to regulate it effectively.

GDPR was a step in the right direction in handing control of personal information back to the user, but this only applies to European citizens. Other countries, such as India, are learning from these regulations with the ambition of creating their own, but it is still very early days. The rules and regulations of the digital economy are being shaped and the internet giants will certainly want to influence proceedings to ensure they can still continue to hoover up profits in the manner which they have become accustomed to.

Looking at where money has been spent, data privacy and security concerns is a common theme with all the internet players who want to protect their standing in the sharing economy, though mobile location privacy issues is another shared concern. With data getting cheaper, more people will be connected all the time, opening the door for more location-based services and data collection. This could be big business for the internet giants, though it has been targeted by privacy advocates looking to curb the influence of Silicon Valley. Other issues have included tax reforms, antitrust and artificial intelligence.

So yes, a remarkable amount of cash is being spent by the likes of Google and Facebook at the moment, but this will only grow in time as regulators and legislators become more familiar with the business of the internet and, more importantly, how to govern it.

US bolsters AI ambitions with Open Government Data Act

President Trump has signed the Open Government Data Act into law, potentially unleashing a tsunami of data for AI applications to be trained with.

The bill itself has been bouncing around Washington for some time now, though it has officially been signed into law. Within one year, all government agencies will have to ensure data sets are open and accessible to the general public and businesses, as well as being presented in a format that can be easily processed by a computer without human intervention. The act also hopes to make the data more accessible through smartphones.

“The government-wide law will transform the way the government collects, publishes, and uses non-sensitive public information,” said Sarah Joy Hays, Acting Executive Director of the Data Coalition, a public interest group which promotes transparency in government and business.

“Title II, the Open Government Data Act, which our organization has been working on for over three and a half years, sets a presumption that all government information should be open data by default: machine-readable and freely-reusable.”

For the digital ecosystem, such a bill should be welcomed with open arms. For any AI application to work effectively it needs to be trained. For years, many have claimed data is the new oil, although we suspect they did not mean in this manner. If the US is to create a leadership position in the developing AI ecosystem, its applications will need to be the best around and therefore will have to have the appropriate data sets to improve performance and accuracy.

Open data is of course not a new idea however. Back in September during Broadband World Forum in Berlin, we sat through several entertaining presentations from individual cities laying out their smart city ambitions. There was one common theme throughout the session; open data. These local governments realise the potential of empowering local digital ecosystems through open data, and the initiatives are proving to be successful.

This new law will force all federal agencies to make all non-sensitive data public in a machine-readable format and catalogue it online. New individuals must be appointed as Chief Data Officers to oversee the process, and new procedures will be introduced. While it seems incredibly obvious, when proposing new laws or regulations agencies will now have to justify the changes with supporting data. As it stands, only a handful of agencies are required to do this, the FCC is one of them, though this law ensures the validation and justification of new rules through data is rolled out across the board.

As with everything to do with data, there are of course privacy concerns. The text of the bill does seem to take this into account, one clause states any data released to the public will have to adhere to the Privacy Act of 1974, though there is bound to be a few blunders. Such a tangent should compound the importance of hiring a Chief Data Officer and a team of individuals who are appropriately trained. We suspect there will be few current employees in the agencies who could ensure compliance here.

Of course, this is not a law which will make an immediate impact. With any fundamental changes, such as this, procedures and systems will have to be updated. The procurement process is most likely, or at least we hope, underway and there will certainly be growing pains.

That said, if the US wants to make a meaningful dent on the AI world, the right tools and data need to be put in the hands of the right people. This is a step in the right direction.