Facebook and the droppings of a male cow

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that Facebook had reacted to a Belgian privacy ruling by blocking access to any Facebook page to anyone in Belgium who isn’t signed in to their Facebook account. And now I have actually been affected by this.

We decided, for various reasons, that a takeaway would be a good idea and agreed on which takeaway to go to. Not being particularly familliar with the restaurant in question, I looked them up on Resto and clicked through to their website to see if I could find a menu.

Their “website” turned out to be a Facebook page, so what I was presented with was this.

Sorry, this content isn’t available right now. We have implemented additional security features that require you to log in to Facebook to view this page from Belgium. Learn why.

Being curious, I clicked on the Learn Why link. And here’s what I learned:

Keeping your account secure is extremely important to us.

But I don’t have a Facebook account. And the reason my access is blocked is because I don’t have a Facebook account. So to claim that this is to keep my account secure seems disingenuous at best.

Because of demands made by the Belgian Privacy Commission, we recently had to limit our use of one important security tool, the datr cookie. Please read on to learn how this tool works and why we’re no longer showing public Facebook pages and other content in Belgium to people who don’t have Facebook accounts.

I’m reading…

This cookie is a security tool we’ve used for more than 5 years around the world to help us tell the difference between legitimate visits to Facebook by real people and illegitimate ones (by spammers, hackers trying to access other people’s accounts, or other bad actors).

This cookie can help us secure Facebook by providing statistical information about a web browser’s activities, such as the volume and frequency of requests. Our security systems analyze this browser data to help us tell the difference between regular people logging into their accounts and potential attackers.

So what Facebook appears to be telling me is that they need to suck up my browser history in order to work out whether or not I’m a legitimate visitor.

And, it turns out that this is exactly what they are saying.

The Belgian Privacy Commission, however, has required that we stop using the datr cookie when people without Facebook accounts in Belgium interact with Facebook. In the absence of this tool, we have to treat any visit to our service from an unrecognized browser in Belgium as potentially dangerous and take additional steps to help keep you and other people secure on Facebook.

Really? You can’t just serve up a static page?

I believe that Facebook is written in PHP, in which case the pages are generated on the server and served as HTML. If I’m not logged in, I can’t — and wouldn’t expect to be able to — access any dynamic content and a plain old HTML file is about as secure as you can get.

We recognize that these measures unfortunately may limit and interrupt your experience on Facebook.

I’m sure you do.

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Search suggestions in Firefox

Firefox 43 was recently released. Once installed I noticed that when I start to type a url into the Awesome Bar it asks me if I want to improve my experience with Search Suggestions.

Many search engines (including Yahoo, Google, Bing and others) provide search suggestions, which are based on popular searches other people make that are related to a word or words that you enter. When Search Suggestions are enabled, the text you type into the search box is sent to the search engine, which analyzes the words and displays a list of related searches.

This is one of these things that is useful on a phone but probably more trouble than it’s worth on the laptop. I tend to use the Awesome Bar to quickly search my browser history (to the point that I no longer bother bookmarking anything), so adding search suggestions would probably be more confusing that enlightening for me.

Still, it’s easy enough to switch it on and off again, so there will be no problem if I change my mind.

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Shane Richmond on copyright

An idea is not property, which is why the term “intellectual property” is so insidious. If I have a car and you take it then I don’t have a car anymore. If I have an idea and you take it, then we both have that idea. Thinking of cultural products as property only helps the companies that have built their business on accumulating rights.

Of course, if you take my idea and use it to make money then my business will suffer and I will have less incentive to have ideas in the future. We need a period of protection for ideas to ensure that creators keep coming up with them because they are vital to our culture. It is, more than anything, part of what makes use human.

But for exactly that reason protection periods should also be kept as short as possible. Once that period has expired, others should be free to reuse, rethink and remix those concepts and incorporate them into their own ideas. That is how every art form has evolved and stayed vibrant. Now more than ever, with the speed of culture accelerated by digital technology, it is imperative that protection periods be shortened.

Read the rest

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Change is the only constant

WordPress 4.4 was released yesterday and, after a bit of poking around, I found that — at first glance — I quite like the new Twenty Sixteen theme (the last theme I liked being the Twenty Twelve one).

I am still poking around a bit to see what options the theme gives me out of the box, so consider this to be a warning that the look of this blog has changed and may change further over the next few days.

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Facebook: No access if we can’t spy on you

Back in November, a Belgian court ruled that Facebook should stop tracking Belgians who are not signed up to the site or pay a daily penalty of €250,000. This is on the basis that, if you are not signed up to Facebook, and have not given them explicit permission to track you, then they are not allowed to just assume that it’s okay to start monitoring your online activities.

The company failed to reach an agreement with the authorities and announced last Tuesday (1st December) that that they would comply with the ruling. Their idea of complying is to deny access to any Facebook pages to anyone in Belgium who isn’t logged on. This applies to personal web pages, businesses, charities, and any other activity organised through the Zuckernet.

Privacy secretary Bart Tommelein is not happy:

They’re a major player, and the impact of their decision is major, but we are not giving in to blackmail. Everyone has to abide by the privacy laws. Without privacy, there can be no freedom.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. The first is that Facebook needs to understand that they are not above the law. If not being allowed to spy on random individuals harms Facebook’s business model, then it’s the business model that needs to change. On a related note, it’s worth remembering that data protection laws exist at the EU level, so similar privacy cases can be brought in any other EU country.

The other point to bear in mind applies to the businesses, charities and other organisations that depend on Facebook for their online presence. Proprietary networks may look like a quick and convenient way to get online, but you are entirely dependent on an organisation that has absolutely no interest in your business, your revenue or your activities. These organisations really should take control of their own online presence.

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A song for Sunday: Papaoutai

Politco has recently published their first Politico 28, a list of the 28 Europeans (one for each EU member state) who have caught their attention this year and are worth watching next year. The Belgian entry is Stromae:

Belgians have good reasons to love Paul Van Haver. On top of the understandable “local boy makes good” pride, there is the way the Brussels-based pop star — better known as Stromae — personifies Belgium’s weird social and cultural mix: He offers something for everyone in a famously fractious country. He’s a French-speaker with a Flemish last name and half-Rwandan ethnic heritage. His music combines the latest electronic dance grooves with old-school, sad-song “chanson,” and addresses political and social issues with humor. His non-threatening, nerdy persona still seems cool and cutting-edge. Imagine Tintin throwing down rhymes while doing a Michael Jackson moonwalk, and you get an idea of Stromae’s appeal.

So here’s Papaoutai, a surprisingly powerful song about growing up without a father.

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Publishing Bias in Action

The AllTrials campaign is calling for all past and present clinical trials to be registered and their full methods and summary results to be reported. To demonstrate why this matters, they have a Clinical trial publishing game, from The Economist.

The results of around half of all clinical trials have never been published. Failing to publish results means the people who make decisions about medicines don’t have full information about the benefits and risks of treatments we use every day.

Go have a play. It’s amazing how much you can skew your results by not publishing the weaker results.

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Gollum experts to decide if Erdogan was insulted

This rather glorious headline comes from EUObserver

A Turkish judge has ordered an “expert investigation” into the Lord of the Rings character Gollum to determine whether comparing President Erdogan to the ring-fancier is an insult. The judge made the request in a case against Bilgin Ciftci, a physician, who faces two years prison for comparing the two.

The case centres on a picture posted in October by Ciftci which compared Erdogan to Gollum in a series of poses. Following this, he lost his job and now (according to Time) faces up to two jears in jail for insulting the president.

Neither the prosecutor nor the judge presiding over the case has seen The Lord of the Rings film adaption series in its entirety, so the court has brought in two academics, two behavioral scientists and a media expert to determine if Cifti did indeed seek to insult the President.

The crucial point here, though, is that insulting a president — or any other politician — should not be a crime in the first place. Erdogan may well find the picture offensive but a country that aspires to join the EU needs to become a little less thin-skinned about their institutions and recognise that criticism — however it is expressed — should not be a crime.

And here’s the picture that caused all the trouble.

Gollum vs Erdogan
Gollum vs Erdogan

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