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.
While exploring the Internet And Human Rights Resources Center at the Internet Society, I encountered a highly informative report from the Global Commission on Internet Governance (CIGI), which was published in January 2016, on the extent to which the management of individuals’ fundamental rights, e.g. privacy and free speech, is in the hands corporations.
The report presents an excellent overview of the various ways in which the dominance of a small set of companies that control the web platforms where most people spend the majority of their time online has produced a situation where these companies have become major actors in determining the state of human rights online.
On February 17th and 18th the Alan Turing Institute held a two day ‘scientific scoping workshop’ on Algorithm Society with the tag-line: “If data is the oil of the 21st century then algorithms are the engines that animate modern economies and societies by providing reflection, analysis and action on our activities. This workshop will look at how algorithms embed in and transform economies and societies and how social and economic forces shape the creation of algorithms.”
The workshop started with three talks covering FinTech (by Prof. Donald MacKenzie), human attitudes/expectations and willingness to use/trust algorithmic decisions (by Berkeley Dietvorst) and a proposal for a “Machine Intelligence Commission” to investigate and interrogate algorithm bias and compliance with regulations (by Geoff Mulgan).
Young people are a highly vulnerable group on social media. Current research (summarised here https://www.nspcc.org.uk/services-and-resources/research-and-resources/2015/how-safe-are-our-children-2015/ ) suggests that 1 in 3 have been victims of cyber bullying and 1 in 4 have experienced something upsetting on a social media site. The ‘Digital Wildfire’ project (www.digitalwildfire.org) explores the spread of provocative and antagonistic content on social media and seeks to identify opportunities for the responsible governance of digital social spaces. As part of this we have spent time engaging with young people and school teachers to find out their views on social media and the harms it can cause.
As this is the first of our blog post for 2016 I thought I’d start off by wishing everyone a happy and prosperous 2016. Looking back, 2015 was a busy year for CaSMa. Judging from our timeline we had about 29 (probably more) events last year ranging from academic conferences and workshops, to public events like the Web We Want festival, youth focused events in collaboration with iRights, Continuous Professional Development (CPD) workshops for SMEs, and even a stand-up comedy routine as part of the Nesta Future Fest fringe. In between these events we were busy collecting data through interviews, questionnaires, surveys and the study of policy documents. So what is in store for 2016?
On Monday 7 December we ran a half-day workshop as part of the POET (Public Outreach Engagement Tool) project. For this workshop we invited Twitter using academics, students and administrative staff (e.g. University communications unit; Library support) to join us for some brainstorming sessions around the features that a tool should have in order to help to optimise the effectiveness of public engagement through Twitter. The outcomes of this workshop will feed directly into the design of a Twitter tool that is currently being developed at Horizon Digital Economy Research.