Have you ever actually read the terms and conditions before signing up to a website or ordering something online? These long, wordy documents are a form of consumer protection designed to make sure we are fully informed when we agree to an online contract. They are supposed to ensure we are making a conscious decision to sign up to a service with full knowledge of the consequences.
The Social Media & Society conference series has been bringing together social media researchers annually since 2010. This year’s meeting in London (UK) was the first time it was held outside of Canada. For CaSMa this offered an excellent opportunity to present the results of the work Andrew Moffat at the Horizon CDT did for our POET project. Follow these links for more information about Andrew’s project, poster he presented at SM&S 16 and the report he wrote about his work.
As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Gada for the civic-engagement in the digital age project, we participated in the Connected Life 2016 conference that was held at the Oxford Internet Institute on June 20th and 21st. We were particularly interested in this conference because of the deliberate efforts by the (student) organizers to include not only academics but also activists and civic/civil-society NGOs among the speakers and discussion panels. While the first day of the conference consisted of academic talks, the second day was organized around workshops and panel discussions by activist/NGOs.
On June 2nd and June 3rd the biennale Danish conference on STS (DASTS16) was held at Aarhus, Denmark. The tagline for the conference was the “quintessential anti-determinist and anti-essentialist mantra of STS ‘It could have been different'”.
In the shadow of the ongoing debate over other Investigative Powers Bill, a debate where much of the rhetoric has been predominantly framed in terms of anti-terrorism and national-security, the National Crime Agency is currently busy with its own internal ‘future scoping’ exercise to examine the UK law enforcement community’s efforts regarding interceptions of communications and associated data. At the heart of this exercise is the question of identifying the boundaries of acceptability of such communications interceptions that delimits ‘policing by consent’ in the fight against serious and organized crime in a democratic society.
Over the last couple of weeks, Facebook has repeatedly had to defend itself against criticism about the way in which it makes editorial decisions when selecting stories that will appear on its ‘Trending Topics’ and ‘News Feed’.
At the heart of current online consumer protection is the concept of informed consent where by the prospective consumer makes a conscious decision to sign up to a service with full knowledge and consent to the consequences of doing so. Even in the newly signed EU General Data Protection Regulation, which will go into effect in 2018, this will not fundamentally change. For anyone who has ever used a commercial internet service however, and this included policy makers, it is glaringly obvious that there is a fundamental flaw in this approach, namely the assumption that the consumer has a good understanding of the contract that is being entered into.
This week saw the publication of the report on ‘Online platforms and the Digital Single Market’ by the House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee. This reports presents the findings of the inquiry that was held from October 2015 till spring 2016, receiving 85 written responses and 20 oral evidence sessions. Included in the written responses were two from Horizon Digital Economy Research, one by Prof. Rodden and one by myself which we partially posted on this blog about in October 2015. The main driver for this inquiry was the publication in May 2015 by the European Commission (EC) of its ‘Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe’ (DSM), which drew attention to the growing role of online platforms as key players in social and economic interactions on the internet, and was followed on 24 September by the launch of an EC consultation ‘A fit for purpose regulatory environment for platforms and intermediaries’. For the purposes of both the EC consultation and the Lords’ inquiry online platforms were considered to ‘represent a broad category of digital businesses that provide a meeting place for two or more different groups of users over the Internet, examples of which include search engines, online marketplaces, the collaborative or sharing economy, and social networks’. What follows is an incomplete summary of the findings in the report, with a focus on the issues related to fundamental rights of platform users (e.g. privacy), the role of algorithms and user consent, which are most closely related to our work at CaSMa.
The second items, is a recently published set of guidelines for Networked Systems Ethics that was published online by Ben Zevenbergen with input from host of people who participated at various ethics workshops organized by Ben.
The European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content & Technology, a.k.a DG Connect recently launched a survey (deadline April 10th 2016) on the ‘future of the internet’ as part of its Net Futures agenda, which was established to “pioneer and coordinate research, innovation, and policy initiatives on what lies beyond the current internet architecture, software and services.” Below is a copy of my submission to the survey.