Facebook: Spying with impunity again

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 ruling, unfortunately, was overruled on appeal at the start of this month. Not, it should be noted, because Facebook is justified in tracking people who are not logged in or have never sighed up to their site, but because:

Belgian courts don’t have international jurisdiction over Facebook Ireland, where the data concerning Europe is processed.

The issue here is one of jurisdiction, not principle. The data protection and privacy laws invoked in this case exist at the EU level, they have not been challenged and the only question is who gets to enforce them. Since Facebook’s European operations are based in Dublin, that would be the Irish.

A little poking around online led me to europe-v-facebook.org:

Are EU Data Protection Laws enforceable in Practice? This may be the main question that europe-v-facebook.org is now about. The right to data protection is a fundamental right in the European Union, but at the same time very little companies respect it. Facebook is just one of many that have a bad reputation when it comes to the handling of users’ data.

So the question arises if users are just too lazy to do something about it, or if the laws are in practice unenforceable?

We unintentionally landed in the middle of a big experiment after filing 22 complaints against Facebook in Ireland, because of breaches of the most basic privacy rules. We happened to look at Facebook for a number of reasons, but the results are very likely exemplary for a whole industry.

You can follow our journey and the under “Legal Procedure“.

While it is clear by now, that no normal citizen is able to follow through with such a proceeding, we are still working to get our final decision today. We want to know if our fundamental rights are respected and enforced against tech giants like Facebook, or if our rights are only existing on the paper.

You can support them at crowd4privacy.org.

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Putting newsletters in the newsfeed

This is handy:

Introducing email newsletters in your RSS reader.

You can now forward your email newsletters over to NewsBlur and then read your email newsletters right in your browser/phone/TV/tablet.

For me, newsletters fall into two categories. The first is marketing bumpf none of which has any value. These are the mails that I try to avoid signing up to in the first place (always uncheck that “Please send me offers” checkbox). Sometimes I forget, though, which has me either looking for the unsubscribe button or – if all else fails – automatically filtering them out of my inbox and into the trash.

The second set is where Newsblur will (hopefully) come in handy. These are the newsletters associated with accounts I have or campaigns in which I am interested. These are the mails that are not urgent enough for me to want them cluttering up my inbox, but which I do want to read at some point.

I have a Newsblur account and have set up an initial filter. It will be interesting to see the effect of moving a little more clutter out of my inbox and into my RSS reader.

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They’d get my vote

I’ve had enough of European politics for the time being1, so I am thankful to the Thoughts of Crys for pointing me in the direction of this delightful campaign video from the Australian Sex Party.

And, while the name may be flippant, a glance at their policies does reveal a solidly rational liberal platform. The more I look at their site, the more I find to like about them.


1 This isn’t entirely true. I keep finding myself obsessively reading the latest Brexit news, but it’s all too depressing to blog about.

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Politics in the Age of Stupid

In the heading of my previous post, I referred to post-reality politics, a response to the fact that the recent Brexit vote was won by the disgusting led by the disingenuous. The Leave camp made a series of transparently empty promises, refused to commit to any vision of the future at all, and still people thought it would be a good idea to follow them off a cliff.

It turns out that The Risk-Monger (a blog I have recently started following) has a much pithier term for this: The Age of Stupid.

We are indeed living in the Age of Stupid: a time where dialogue is dead, where fear is the main decision-making motivation and where we seek to confirm our bias with short emotional messages flaring continuously across our closed Internet tribes. Those whose ideas differ from ours are banned from discussions or routinely ganged up on by insult mobs; experts who provide challenging evidence are personally attacked; and trust is found, not in the leaders, scientists and technologies, but rather the activists with story-telling campaigns. With anecdote taken as evidence, there is no longer a search for understanding or knowledge in exchanging ideas – in the Age of Stupid, people search for the right crowd saying the right thing to confirm their righteous beliefs.

New Europe points out that Google reported that the second most popular search term in the UK had become ‘What is the EU?’ on the day after polls closed in the referendum. It’s possible, I suppose, that none of those people taking to Google on Friday had actually voted in the referendum. I suspect, though, that the sad truth is that these people had stepped out and cast an ignorant vote on an issue they hadn’t even tried to understand. This conclusion seems to be borne out by the vote’s aftermath.

The New Europe article goes on to say:

The failure, if any, has been with the individuals that comprise the voting public, not with democracy.

Because whether you are voting in a local election, a national election, or a referendum, you have a civic duty to be fully informed as to what exactly you are voting for and what the other options are.

Wondering about political parties? Read their manifestos, and their electoral programme.

A referendum? Read up on the issue, understand as much as possible no matter how complex. Do not just listen to talking heads; do not just consume propaganda.

On the day of the referendum, I posted on a social media account of mine that everyone should go out and vote, given the historic importance that the referendum would have. In hindsight, I think I was wrong. Voters have a duty to participate in the political process of their society, but they should not be compelled to unless they have a firm grasp of the implications of their vote.

Participating in a democracy is not just about turning up on the day. We can’t all be be experts on everything, but if we want to live in a functioning society we all have a responsibility to seek to understand the issues to the best of our abilities.

Of course, we can’t all be equally passionate – or well informed – about all issues and it is worth noting at this point that Britain is still a representative democracy. MPs are elected to represent the interests of their constituents but the decision of how best to represent those interests rests with the MPs. An MP that fails to adequately represent his or her constituents’ interests can (should) lose their seat when held to account at the next election.

What Britain is not is an ochlocracy, or it wasn’t until Friday, and it certainly shouldn’t be. As David Lammy has pointed out, Parliament is sovereign, the referendum result is not legally binding and the UK is not obliged to follow a few dishonest demagogues over the cliff.

And, of course, Westminster is not the only Parliament:

[Nicola] Sturgeon noted that “if the Scottish Parliament was judging this on the basis of what’s right for Scotland then the option of saying look we’re not to vote for something that’s against Scotland’s interest, of course that’s got to be on the table.”

And I don’t see any of the Leavers in the Conservative party rushing forward to keep their promise to trigger Article 50.

It would be nice to believe that UK parliamentarians would grow a collective spine, step back from this disastrous flirtation with mob rule, unequivocally make clear that no-one is going to start the exit process, and start telling the electorate what they really think rather than pandering to the racists, xenophobes and Little Englanders who will never be satisfied whatever concession they win.

It would be nice to believe this. In the meantime, becoming a Belgian citizen is looking increasingly attractive.

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Self inflicted wounds, or: The rise of post-reality politics

I haven’t really blogged – or blogged at all – about the UK’s Brexit referendum, primarily because I didn’t have anything to say. The leave camp came out with a series of assertions that were either untrue or bogus and quickly demolished. They presented no vision of what a post-Brexit UK would look like, relying instead on bluster and platitudes. To throw everything in the air on the basis of a bunch of transparently empty promises would be foolish beyond belief.

It turns out that there are a lot more fools in the UK than I had realised.

In fact, fool is far too mild a word for the people who have decided to give the reactionary and libertarian wings of the Tory party a free hand to do whatever they want. So what will we see next? Slashing of corporation taxes (“we have to calm the markets”), more spending cuts (“we just can’t afford the NHS any more”) and then things are likely to turn really nasty.

Scotland, as expected, voted strongly to remain and I would be surprised if the SNP aren’t planning for the next independence referendum already. And frankly, I don’t think I can disagree with them – why should the Scots sit back and let the English rip their economy to pieces?

And then there’s Northern Ireland, and the possibilities here are quite horrible.

The real irony in all this, though, is that the people who are most likely to be harmed by this vote are the people who voted for it.

Update: Scotland and Ireland

In the U.K, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness calls for a United Ireland vote. What is at stake is the relationship of Northern Ireland with the Republic Ireland. 56% of Northern Irish voted to Remain, or 11 of the 18 constituencies.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the “unequivocal” vote to stay in Europe after all 32 authorities delivered a vote for Remain. Ms Sturgeon will now be under pressure to deliver a second independence referendum in line with the manifesto of the Scottish National Party. Former first minister Alex Salmond warned Scots not to be “dragged” out of the EU.

It looks like it’s all over for the UK.

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Quote of the day: Time to clean out the stables

As today I read screeds of Leave propaganda in the Daily Mail, I have lost all patience. The shrill poison of their ignorance, coupled with the arrogant certainty of their invective has left a young mother murdered, but as the obvious accusation emerges, these hypocrites scream that the just anger of those who have seen what has happened is “playing politics”.


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Duffercast 12: Don’t Ask

Good things come to those that wait. Also, episode 12 of the Duffercast has now been released.

Four gentlemen golfers on the tee of a golf course As a Swedish proverb says: The wait for something good can never be too long. The duffers are finally back with an episode that was not only recorded, but also published. We sincerely hope the shock is not too great. And if it is, we hope it is pleasant.

Click here to find the full shownotes and to download the episode to your audio device of choice.

In related news, the Duffercast is now part of the Otherside Podcast Network, a community of podcasts from a variety of genres that tend to veer away from the more usual mainstream fare. Shows on the network include – but are not limited to – music, technology and discussions. So take a look, and then start updating your podcatcher.

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Panorama freedom update

atomium Back in August, I mentioned that a couple of Liberal MPs in Belgium were seeking to implement “panorama rights” in the country. These would ensure that copyright claims could not made for works placed in public.

In short, if an artist puts a work in a public space, they have already conceded that people can take photos of it.

And now:

The Belgian parliament’s business commission has just finalised proposals for legislation on ‘panorama freedom’ and this will mean that everyone gets the right to take photographs of such landmarks without having to fear the full force of the law.

Flemish liberal lawmakers Patricia Ceysens and Frank Wilryck argue that the individual’s right to take snaps should prevail above copyright that offers protection to works of art and buildings in the public domain: “This is simple logic, especially because many of these works of art have been purchased using monies from the public purse.”

Under the bill that has the backing of other government parties everybody will have the right to take snaps of and share images of such landmarks as well publish photographs in books and on the internet. The works must be on permanent display in the public domain. Works of art in museums will still be protected.

With luck, I will be able to legally take a photo of the Atomium before I die.

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