Author Archive

Feeding the Google Dragon

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Apple vs FBI: Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

For most, the Apple and the FBI row over access to a terrorist’s IPhone contact book is simple, Apple should provide it.

In December 2015, radicalised Islamic terrorists Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik shot 14 people and injured 22 others in San Bernardino.

FBI agents investigating the background to the incident having already opened two personal mobile devices belonging to the pair found they could not get into a work IPhone owned by the pair and asked Apple to open it. Apple declined, and the FBI obtained a court order demanding the company to comply with its request.

The problem for the company is that it is sitting at a crossroads in the history of technology.

Research by technology companies has found post Edward Snowden – the NSA whistle-blower who revealed the wholesale surveillance of mobile phone data around the world by the NSA and UK’s GCHQ – a trend for people to protect their data called Privacy as a Service developing alongside another service known as Security as a Service both seen as essential to the take up of cloud computing.

The problem for Apple is being seen to be a willing accomplice of the US Government something post-Snowden that cost the big US technology companies as customers pulled back from the cloud due to security and privacy concerns.

The problem for the company is that it is sitting at a crossroads in the history of technology.

It is a concern over US and UK Government activities that has seen the development of data safe havens in parts of Europe most notably in Helsinki and Berlin.

Indeed, in March 2016, Berlin hosted the Logan CIJ Symposium which included among its speakers Snowden and Julian Assange among many significant opponents of government communication surveillance.

Conscious of the appetite for privacy Apple, Facebook, Google, Linked-In, Microsoft and Yahoo all signed an open letter to President Obama asking him to scale back US Government surveillance and since have all indicated that they are unwilling to co-operate with it, not for moral reasons but because they can see it will impact on their profits.

Something that the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee warned the UK Government over in February regarding its proposed Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act.

While the implementation of the new EU directive on Data Protection, only a year away, will require that businesses should be clear about the reasons why they are collecting information and the purposes it is being collected for.

In spite of the caveats that governments have put into the legislation allowing them to ride rough shod over the principles in pursuit of criminals and terrorists, it is predicted this will increasingly be resisted and will be challenged legally. In the US the EU legislation is being examined with interest by groups who see it as the potential foundation for similar measures in America, the technology companies do not want to be seen to be on the wrong side in a battle to assert data rights.

So it is this fight over the rights to data in the information age that underlies Apple’s current response. As the public starts to become aware of the uses its data is being put to by technology companies and governments it will want more and more controls over the use of its data and protections for it, that limit its use.

More interestingly it will also demand a return from the collection and processing of its data and challenge organisations over whether the processing of data confers ownership.

In the 1980s, German people rebelled against increased census data demands from the German Government yet since willingly supplied more information to Facebook than the German Government had wanted – proving they wanted to give information to Facebook but did not trust the German Government with their data, or that it would use that data in their best interests.

So Apple is prepared to fight its corner as privacy supporters will say it was prepared to defend data on behalf of those who had agreed to its collection and use for the purposes it was to be used for.

Previous versions of the Apple phone were protected by a four-digit pin which allowed 10 attempts before wiping the phone. For investigators this proved to be no challenge and by attempting nine guesses and then powering the phone down they were able to break into phones within two weeks. It was also possible to get into the phones by connecting straight onto the processing chip. In the latest IPhone Apple remedied this by introducing a six-digit code which would take years to brute force and removing the power down reset facility, the phone is also wiped if any attempt is made to connect directly to the chip. The result if that the Apple phones are now virtually unbreakable unless the code governing access to the password system is rewritten disabling the software that allows 10 password attempts.

“The issue for Apple is that they are trying to force it to build a new operating system that they could put on a chip,” said Professor Andrew Blyth, an expert in computer forensics from the University of South Wales. “The idea is that the FBI can then install that on the phone so that it would disable the protection mechanisms around the password which would allow them to then brute force it in a a matter of hours.”

Thus we now have a stand-off and the stand-off is to see who blinks first, hacking experts say the US Government does not need a back door. If the US spends the time and money necessary it can break in, but the US Government wants to be seen to be more powerful than any technology firm and to establish that it has primacy over the ultimate collection and use of data. It would appear to be a point of principle; no one is above the law, but what will be interesting will be whether long-term it will be established that this includes Governments.

Apple is saying that the Government does not have the right to deal a mortal blow to its business by undermining its credibility, letting the whole world know that it’s data is not safe in an IPhone and making the systems a target for hackers because of the back door.

The result of Apple’s compliance will be businesses and consumers will not buy a product that they know is impugned.

Apple’s brand value is all. Apple owners do Apple’s marketing for them – letting the phone’s security be questioned means that competitors will point out that they may be pretty, but they are simply chocolate teapots. They look attractive and desirable but leak like hell.

The Gig Economy – Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Friday, March 11th, 2016

Steven Hill is an internationally renowned political writer and researcher. His latest book Raw Deal: How the ‘Uber Economy’ and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers deals with the “freelance society” and the impact of the sharing-economy on the labour market and working conditions. We’ve talked with him in Berlin, where he is a fellow at the American Academy this spring.

Ralf Grötker: Where is the major difference between companies such as Uber or Taskrabbit, who like to present themselves as “just a website”, and more traditional temporal work agencies?

Steven Hill: Temporal work agencies used to give you a job for a couple of days or even a few months. With these new services, which I call the “gig economy”, it’s really just for an afternoon. But the way Uber conducts business is becoming more and more the dominant model. Take Upwork, formerly known as Elance oDesk. This company is a broker for freelancers, many of them in the creative sector. More than 10 million freelancers worldwide offer their services via Upwork. But the company itself has just a staff of 800 people – only one third of them being regular employees, the rest freelancers themselves. To many, Upwork represents the company of the future. I would rather call it the “lean and mean”-style of conducting business.

Before the arrival of Taskrabbit and like companies, one used to hire a carpenter who was doing carpentry as a job and who was working on a regular labor contract. He had social security. But these days, you hire a contractor from an online service. He is not member of a labor union, he operates without a safety net of social security, and will make hardly more money than minimal wage. Especially in the US, after the economy crashed in 2008, we see this happen. Good jobs are being replaced by bad jobs.

Or take a company like Spare5. Spare5 recruits freelancers for jobs which are so small that they can be done while waiting for the bus, such as manually labeling websites representing certain products, so that these products can be found easier by customers using search engines. Jobs – if you still want to call it that – are actually getting smaller and smaller. Communication technology makes this possible.

RG: How big is the “gig economy”, actually?

SH: There is a lot of debate in the US about this question. The bureau of labor statistics says: The gig economy doesn’t really show up in our numbers. Other researchers think that in households and employer surveys, people are just not reporting that they have second and third jobs. Judging by the numbers of 1099 forms, which, in the US, employers file for their freelance-contractors, the whole gig-economy business has been going up by 20 percent in the recent past. The number of people filing for Schedule SE, which is for self-employment, at the Internal Revenue Service, is also up by 20 percent.

The issue of wages, in my view, is tied to the globalization of trade and services and other trends.

RG: You propose to fix at least some of the problems of the “gig economy” with the introduction of an Individual Security Account. The basic idea: If you hire a freelancer, you will have to pay a certain amount into a social insurance-pot, in addition to the remuneration which the freelancer himself gets paid. Out of that insurance, social security, healthcare, unemployment benefits and injured workers compensations will be covered. Who should actually pay into these accounts: individual consumers or companies such as Uber or Upwork?

SH: Definitely the companies! At least in those cases, where they act not as a marketplace only, but employ freelancers as contractors who are bound to the company’s own rules. It just would be too hard for the government to pass costs for Security Accounts directly on to consumers. Surely, those companies also will pass the cost for the Individual Security Account on to the consumers. But that’s how it should be. Many of those consumers will be the people who are at the same time benefitting from the social security plan of the Account. A rising tide will float all the boats.

RG: An Individual Security Account still doesn’t change anything about the very low income which very many freelancers make. Do you also have a solution for this?

SH: It’s right that the Individual Security Account doesn’t change the income situation. There is not one fix to all of this. But still: There are two ways to increase the standard of living of a worker. One is to give him more money, so that he can afford to buy what he needs. The other way is to lower the costs of the things he needs to buy. Healthcare for sure is among these things. If one manages to make the individual worker to be part of larger pool, then costs for health insurance can be drastically reduced. This way, he doesn’t need higher wages. Also: The issue of wages, in my view, is tied to the globalization of trade and services and other trends. More and more, we are in competition with countries where wages are much lower. All this is fairly complex. That’s why I have chosen on focusing on the Individual Security Account.

People Before Tech – Social Change & Digital Empowerment

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Book review: Geek Heresy, Rescuing social change from the cult of technology by Kentaro Toyama

In 2004 computer engineer Kentaro Toyama started up Microsoft Research’s ICT for development program in Bangalore, India. The idea was to use computers and internet connectivity in order to improve education and reduce poverty. The results fell short of expectations, despite pilots showing initial results. Sometimes new technology even worsened social and psychological problems. The experience shook up Toyama’s worldview.

The ‘heresy’ of the book’s title is Toyama’s turnabout from his Silicon Valley outlook that technology alone drives social change. Social change is less about problem solving, and more about nurturing people.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency”. Bill Gates, Toyama’s former boss at Microsoft, summed up this important relationship as “The Law of Amplification” in his book The Road Ahead from 1995.

Geek Heresy provides the reader with many examples that Gates’ words went unheeded. Schools in India received new computers, but they did not make up for the lack of educated teachers and committed headmasters. Rather, they added new burdens of maintenance and upgrades. The Egyptian revolution was called a Facebook revolution, but in order for it to happen people already had the ability to read and write, use basic IT and the political will.

Access to computers does not mean that users have the capacity or motivation to use them. In order to do so they also need skills. Purchasing IT, as everything else, has an alternate cost. In some cases it could be better to invest scarce resources in other options. If motivation is lacking, Toyama notes that computers will probably get used for entertainment rather than empowerment, as entertainment is easy to access.

Silicon Valley is a pilot project of sorts. It is a place brimming with highly motivated and talented people with access to the best IT infrastructure available. It seldom looks like that when projects are being implemented. The designers are praised but the implementers are often forgotten, while the capability of the users is overestimated.

It is not a question of more or less technology, rather about what technology should amplify or suppress in order to promote people’s aspirations.

Toyama sees these “packaged interventions”, one-size-fits-all solutions that ignore local contexts and individual capacities, as sloganeering and quick fixes. You cannot package the intention or the desire of the implementation, and neither can it be mass-produced. For the same reasons, he takes issue with micro credits and social business. Democratic elections are also promoted as a quick fix, but a stable democracy is so much more than voting ballots.

From his studies in the history of technology, Toyama finds that both utopians and skeptics share the belief that technology embodies certain moral values. Contextualists see technology being applied on a case by case basis, while social determinists see the importance of human values in implementation. Selling soap is no good if no one knows why to wash their hands, and what good might come out of it.

The book’s idea is similar to computer scientist Don Norman’s use of affordances in the fields of HCI and interaction design. Possible actions are dependent on the actor’s goals, plans, values, beliefs, and past experiences.

Growth in individual character is the basis of progress, but covering the application of technology is a difficult task on its own. When reaching out into discussing the amplification of human society, Toyama loses focus from his argument of amplifying people.

As he points out in the interesting chapter about mentorship, you have to foster a person’s ability to assess and make choices in order to find and achieve goals of their own. People are going to experiment in order to grow, and they will arrive at many different values. Social change faces different conditions, and thus different solutions.

Geek Heresy is laudable for it’s constructive outlook. It is not a question of more or less technology, rather about what technology should amplify or suppress in order to promote people’s aspirations. The book also shows things more connected countries could learn from. Development is a two-way street where all can benefit.

Making Law for Thinking Machines? Start with the Guns

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

The Bank of England‘s warning that the pace of artificial intelligence development now threatens 15m UK jobs has prompted calls for political intervention.

According to scientists and legal experts, responding to the bank’s warning this November,  there is now an urgent need for the development of intelligent algorithms to be put on the political agenda.

– A lot of sceptics have said that this is the same sort of disruption that we have from technology in the Industrial Revolution, the thing then it was only in the agricultural sector. This is happening now and across the board and that’s the difference. That’s why a lot of us need to start talking about this now. The Government needs to pick up on this and put it on the political agenda and look at regulatory issues, said Chrissie Lightfoot, a patent lawyer and author, who debated fears over unemployment caused by AI at London’s Science Museum last October.

Top of the agenda as far as Lightfoot is concerned is the economic impact if AI cuts large amounts of jobs and the incomes from people,  how will they make a living and what will they do, a concern that Professor Toby Walsh, an expert in AI at Australia’s University of New South Wales and a prominent campaigner against the use of AI in military weapons, says is justified and one that needs to be urgently considered.

– There is going to be a fundamental change in the economy and how we work. We are already seeing increasing inequalities happening. The challenge is how do we ensure that all us benefit from this rising tide and not just the people who own the robots.

– There are some real societal issues that we need to confront. Society as a whole has to decide where we are going to go.

Though Professor Walsh and fellow AI expert Murray Shanahan, Professor of Cognitive Robotics at London’s Imperial College were wary of calls for regulation of the sector, which they said, would inhibit research. According to Professor Walsh scientists working in AI have already started to exercise a degree of self-control over the exploitation of the discoveries being made in AI the areas that need to be focussed on are the ramifications of the technology.

A point underlined by Professor Shanahan:

– It’s premature to start discussing regulations for AI research in general but there are a lot related areas where it make sense. It certainly makes sense to talk about regulation for autonomous weapons.

– It makes sense to talk about self-driving cars and it makes sense to look at the privacy issues that come with personal assistants based on AI that make use of our private data.

All concerns that point to an urgent need for an informed political debate on AI as the potential now exists for huge amounts of power to be concentrated the technology companies developing the robots.

Morozov: Digital Disempowerment of Citizens

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Evgeny Morozov is one of the fiercest and most articulate critics of internet-centrism and the freenomics of Silicon Valley. Talking about the ”internet” stands in the way of understanding the context and suggests that technology in itself is the driver of social change, said the American-Belarusian writer at the Internet Days conference in Stockholm on Monday.

Free digital services disempower citizens but give the illusion of empowerment, says Evgeny Morozov. In a similar fashion, the internet giants’ digital offerings are tempting for governments under pressure from the financials of aging demographics, humanitarian crises and austerity measures. Traditional domains of public service, such as education, healthcare and public transportation can and will be replaced or complemented by big data services, which gives a relief to the government budgets, but at the same time ties them to the global financial and advertising markets. In existing systems, transactions happened through tax payments or such things as stamps and tickets, none with any connection to global advertising and finance. Another dimension is that all solutions are based on individual rather than collective measures. Health becomes an issue of carrying a step counter that nudges the user to walk more, rather than for example looking at urban design to develop a city with more public spaces, walkways, bike paths and other costly public investments. It is the privatisation of the commons. Morozov also makes the point that all data that is traded is data about individuals. It is our data that has value in the ad markets.

Traditional domains of public service, such as education, healthcare and public transportation can and will be replaced or complemented by big data services

Evgeny Morozov’s work includes two influential books which easily could be used as basic textbooks for internet sceptics. The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (PublicAffairs 2010) points to the irony of Western technology companies thinking their products can liberate the oppressed, where in fact real people risked (and lost) their lives in the Arab Spring and technology was used just as much to monitor dissidents as for liberation (Netopia contributor Mariam Kirollos is an eye-witness of this in her column and speech). In his next book To Save Evertyhing Click Here – The Folly of Technological Solutionism (Public Affairs 2013), Morozov launched the concept ”solutionism” – a solution looking for a problem which he says is a pattern of digital offers (my own favorite example is ”destination lifts” with no buttons inside) – solutionism is the sister of internet centrism. Read Ralf Grötker’s review here.

Morozov’s talk in Stockholm gives some hints to his upcoming book project. His analysis of the powers at play looks at three nodes: corporations, governments and citizens. The current trends of freenomics and big data tends to shift power away from citizens to governments (through the introduction of digital surveillance for anti-terrorism for example) and from citizens and governments to corporations as described above. A possible objection is that at least in theory, in democracies the interests of the citizens and the government ought to be aligned. The idea that the government has a completely different agenda than the public sounds more like something from survivalists or Tea Party-libertarians than a modern society with functioning institutions. This is where Netopia may differ from Morozov, democracy can be expanded to the digital domain and public institutions protect our rights and interests more than threaten them.

Morozov’s answer is to not look at our data as a commodity that can be traded and to erect some barriers around it, making it more difficult to harvest. One could add that this may bring a shift from freenomics to paid services, which is incidentally what Google chief economist Hal Varian predicted in a comment to Netopia earlier this autumn.

Video from Morozov’s speech here.

The Gig Economy and European Labour

Monday, November 9th, 2015

In a recent conference hosted by the Socialists & Democrats Group of the European Parliament the topic of “Employment and Social Security in the Digital Single Market: Chances and Challenges” was discussed, featuring prominent speakers from a range of European agencies, civil society organizations and a number of members of the Socialists & Democrats group.

The Digital Risk to Employment

MEPs Maria João Rodrigues and Jutta Steinruck opened the session by underlining the Socialists’ position on the forthcoming Digital Single Market, noting the groups concerns over the associated risks for the labour market and the potential for the Digital Revolution to distort the understanding of what it means to be a worker.

The prospect of the Digital Revolution’s effect on jobs was a core area discussed during the conference. Indeed, one of the most pressing topics for any sector, not least digital practice, are employment figures. The maxim of growth and jobs going hand-in-hand is at the heart of any government’s economic strategy, but for the implementation of a Digital Single Market (DSM), the European Commission focuses all its effort on the technological detail, whilst failing to address the issue of Europe’s labour market structures. The Commission’s conviction that the DSM will create a range of new jobs is problematic. While the Commission might well be right, the first thing to consider is what exactly these jobs will be and who will be filling the vacancies. One size rarely fits all in the free market.

The ‘Gig Economy’ is a phenomenon that has grown rapidly over the last few years and is challenging labour market structures. The concept was highlighted by Valerio de Stefano of the International Labour Organization, who defined “gig economy” as the emergence of ‘on-demand work’, typical of such services as Uber, which allow work and labour to be allocated to anyone, anywhere in the world, via online platforms. The immediate benefits for the consumers are clear – lower costs for services and quicker-responses to sporadic requests – and such platforms do add some fluidity to the economy, but they could, without checks, do damage to labour standards. As Stefano clearly underlines, “if people come to be identified solely as forms of service, there is a risk of dehumanization and of concealing labour behind closed doors. Risks could shift from business towards workers”.

The current regulatory framework of the labour market has been in place since the 20th century. Its purpose was to maintain stability for labour forces. But the rise of a ‘Gig Economy’ put at risks crucial aspects of this framework as unchecked “pay-as-you-go” wage system will inevitably result in a race to the bottom. Such systems give employers carte blanche to organize and mobilize cross-border workforces based on the lowest possible cost and without proper regulation or contractual status. Likewise, the platforms relieve employers of the obligation to continue using the labour of the worker who becomes dissatisfied with the conditions of his or her employment.

As Irene Mandl of Eurofound, the EU agency for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions was quick to address, online-based labour poses a significant threat to wages. A monthly income of €300 goes much further in India than in France or the UK. Thus, there is little incentive for employers to pay above that level and meet the minimum wage standards that are currently in place in many EU countries. In other words, applying competitive practices to the workforce expose workers to a reduction in wages and an erosion of their collective bargaining over time.

Is Labour Mobility Even a Concept in the Digital Age?

The labour market is no stranger to paradigm reform. Editor-in-Chief at Social Europe, Henning Meyer, underlines the historical factors concerning technological implementation into the market, “the first emergence of technology onto the market was to replace humans with machine muscle. The second one we are experiencing is seeking to replace cognitive functions with artificial intelligence”. With the former, jobs were lost, but a degree of mobility was still possible as human was still required in the labour force. As such, it was possible to offset job losses by relocating workers. Today’s challenge is to compensate for job losses from the rise of AI. But it comes with many more problems. As Henning sets out, “how likely is it that truck drivers are going to move up the ladder and become software engineers if we replace them with driverless trucks? Where will they go?”

We often speak of interoperability. It works great with machines. For people, not so much.

We often speak of interoperability. It works great with machines. For people, not so much.

Moreover, if the money isn’t going to the workers then it isn’t going to the treasury. Nor are social security contributions being paid. This will inevitably be a strain on government spending on key areas such as welfare. This is where the Commission’s strategy falls short. It may be laced with cool-sounding phrases that grab the reader’s attention, but it has moved the focus away from jobs, filling the gaping holes with technological solutions, without really assessing what the consequences of this will be.

Gig Economy is not a Separate Market

Valerio de Stefano’s closing statements underlined where social structures need to shift before digital deregulation can be safely implemented in the way the Commission is proposing. “A Stronger emphasis [is needed] on defining workers as workers and understanding that the Gig economy is not a separate market”. It will need to be subject to the same rules and regulations that are abided by in the traditional marketplace, with the further inclusion of trade unions to sufficiently protect the labour force.

Certainly the prospect of a new digital economy is an exciting concept, but a mature digital strategy should account both for those who benefit from it and, more importantly, those who stand to lose out. The European Commission would certainly benefit from considering the points raised during the conference.

“Paid Prioritisation Prohibited”

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

3 Questions to Nathalie Vandystadt, European Commission spokesperson for the Digital Single Market.

On 27th October, the European Parliament voted to adopt an agreement reached in June to end roaming charges by 2017 and to set net neutrality rules in the EU for the first time. After the vote, Netopia asked three questions to Nathalie Vandystadt, European Commission spokesperson for the Digital Single Market.

Per Strömbäck: Does the EP vote allow for a two-speed internet? (That is not the same as a neutral network)

Nathalie Vandystadt: No, on the contrary, the vote has fully ensured that every European must be able to have access to an open internet and all content and service providers will be able to provide their services via a high-quality open internet. But more and more innovative services require a certain transmission quality in order to work properly – not just today’s services, such as IPTV, but new ones such as telemedicine or automated driving. These and other services that can emerge in the future can be developed as long as they do not harm the availability and the quality of the open internet.

It is not a question of fast lanes and slow lanes – as paid prioritisation is not allowed – but of making sure that all needs are served, that all opportunities can be seized and that no one is forced to pay for a service that is not needed.

The Regulation sets very clear and strong conditions for the provision of such specialised services and includes the necessary safeguards to ensure that the open internet is not negatively affected. Such services have to meet the following conditions:

– They have to be optimised for specific content, applications or services;

– Optimisation must be objectively necessary to meet service requirements for specific levels of quality that are not assured by the internet access service.

The text also sets very clear safeguards to avoid that the provision of these services impairs the internet access. These services:

– Cannot be a substitute to internet access services;

– Can only be provided if there is sufficient network capacity to provide them in addition to any internet access service;

– Must not be to the detriment of the availability or general quality of internet access services for end-users.

PS : Netflix have done battle with ISPs over net neutrality in order to avoid special charges, but now some ISPs start to pay Netflix – reversing the interests. How does such a change influence the Commission’s telecom single market policy?

NV: The Telecoms Single Market Regulation is based on principles (non-discrimination, access to content of the end user’s choice etc) in order to be future proof.

The Regulation will not change because of changes to the commercial behaviour of some operators

PS : Can a ”neutral” network guarantee fair competition and free speech? Is that not a case for active governance rather than the absence of authorities?

NV: The new rules will create a positive individual right of end users to access or distribute internet content and services of their choice. This right can be enforced by courts as well as by regulatory authorities. The rules apply to all customers of internet access service.

National regulatory authorities are fully present in this process. They shall monitor and enforce compliance with the open internet rules. These authorities will thus have the power and obligation to examine how the traffic management practices of internet service providers affect the end-users’ (consumers and businesses) rights to access and distribute content, applications and services of their choice. They will have to ensure that the quality of the open internet access service reflects advances in technology. National regulatory authorities will also have to ensure that the availability and quality of the open internet access service is not degraded by traffic discrimination through internet service providers or by the provision of specialised services. Regulatory authorities furthermore have the responsibility to assess commercial practices, e.g. as regards differentiated data pricing such as zero-rating, to ensure that they do not circumvent the provisions of the Regulation, including those on non-discriminatory traffic management, and do not lead to situations where the choice of end-users would be materially reduced in practice, in their specific market circumstances. Regulators are also empowered to set minimum quality of service requirements on internet access providers and other appropriate and necessary measures to ensure that all end-users enjoy an open internet access service of good quality.

“It’s very Hard to Finance a Film”

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

5 Questions to Helena Bergström, Swedish Actress and Film Director

Per Strömbäck, Editor of Netopia, recently had the opportunity to sit down with critically acclaimed Swedish Actress and Film Director Helena Bergström to talk about her upcoming film ‘A Holy Mess’ (En underbar jävla jul in Swedish) and to discuss her experience as a filmmaker and how the changing audiovisual landscape impacts the cinema sector.

Watch the interview below:



Per Strömbäck: I’m here with Helena Bergström, you are one of Sweden’s most famous actresses and directors, and you’re here in Brussels to screen your new movie ‘A Holy Mess’ which opens this Christmas. You have been very cautious about this film, you were afraid that it would leak or end up in the wrong place, why have you been so cautious?

Helena Bergström: Of course, in the time we are living in now it’s so easy that it can be spread and the other day when I was still working with sound on the film and of course it was not finished, I went on the net to see how the trailer looked and all of a sudden, I saw ““A Holy Mess”, the whole film“. And I just, I was numb; and of course I went into it and it was not the whole film it was somebody who had tried to kind of get clicks, I don’t know who but it was still not the whole film. But there were so many thoughts in my head; who leaked it? Was it from the sound or was it from where we had been grading the film? Who was leaking my film and of course it’s behind you all the time as a threat, because of course if it’s leaked, if it’s there on the net, it’s not yours. How would I get an audience for it? So, of course it’s a huge issue for us that make films, that we somehow just deal with this question. Because otherwise we won’t be able to make films anymore.


PS: You are one of the most influential people in the Swedish film industry do you find it easy to make the films that you like to make?

HB: It’s very hard financially right now and it’s always been but now, it’s even harder than it’s ever been actually to finance a film. It’s because also DVDs is out, doesn’t exist, and was a huge part of the economy of the film, a DVD. First you have the cinema window, then you have the DVD and then of course it went on the different page, Amazon and all of that. But now, that side is just gone and that you really feel within the film business, how hard it is to finance. And then you need to sit with, in my case, with this last film I made you have to sit with private financers to try to get some private finance but it’s hard to say to these people “oh, you’re going to get your money back, no problem”, because it is a very tough time right now and we need all the help we can to sort this side of piracy about the stealing. That’s what it is, stealing, stealing our work if you don’t pay for it. So, for all creators to make films it’s hugely important and it will be for the people watching because it in the end there won’t be any films made.


PS: This is a really typical Swedish story, “A Holy Mess” it’s about the Swedish Christmas, but a lot of movies are co-productions with funding from various countries, how important is this European collaboration?

HB: With this case in my film now its local but I really hope it will travel, I think it could, we say it could be a remake or something like that but I think it would be great if Europeans film could be more spread. In my case right now this film is totally financed in Sweden of course I wish that I could also get some finance from the outside as well. But, I think we need to open up the European market that we are more open to look at one-another’s film. In Sweden we like our local films but then we watch American films. It’s very hard, it’s very seldom of French films or another other we can say non-English speaking films works audience-wide in Sweden but I think there’s a market there, let’s target it to really try to open up and let the distributors be able to distribute more European films because I think in the end that’s also what’s going to open up and make an understanding between each country and we try to collaborate with some many issues right now because Europe is in a crisis we can say, and then we need to understand one-another and I think then to start to see each other’s cultures is very important.


PS: And this goal of increasing the exchange within Europe that’s also a political goal for the European institutions, a current suggestion is the licensing of rights should be made mandatory or similar to mandatory in order to facilitate the traveling of European movies, what do you think about this?

HB: It is one problem that is of course the funding of the films, we need to be able to sell our films, to get funding. If you just open it up then of course we are in a very tough situation of course with the financing of the films. So, we should open up to show more European films for one-another in these countries but we also need to help one-another to finance them and then we need to be able to sell a film. So, to just open up is also very dangerous in that sense.


PS: And my last question, digital technology we like to say has changed a lot, what has the difference for you as a filmmaker before and after digital technology, we talked about the market but what about the making of the films?

HB: Oh it’s huge actually, this film for example I’ve been having my dailies in my phone, I’ve been looking through my phone, everything is so digital I get everything home with me all the time I’ve been cutting something I’m sitting at my computer and my last film was not this highly different in technology as it be now, it’s been very good for me creative-wise because it is so open I can bring it all the time but it’s also fear of course if it goes to me now where is it going, is it going to somebody else, can somebody else watch it? It includes some fear as well. But of course the technology is fantastic in many ways, creative-wise and also this digital copies. Before we had copies on the film, each copy cost a lot but now of course it can go up in many copies but also makes it very fast running the cinema so you need to make it work immediately. Before we could have long runs, we could kind of work a film, not many copies maybe but it still goes and then it can go for three, months, up to a year. One of my biggest audience films I think it was in the cinema for a year, that is an impossibility now of course, sad I think also, so it good and bad.

PS: Thank you very much Helena Bergström we wish you the best of luck with “A Holy Mess”

The Mystery of the Digital Economy: Where Is the Money? Where Are the Jobs?

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

A Critical Look at the #DigitalSingleMarket strategy Part 1

Time and time again we were promised innovation, progress and not least added value from the digital economy. But now economists are increasingly scratching their heads, because we certainly see a lot of disruption through the effects of digital economy, but – in a broad sense – no added value. The German economic magazine Wirtschaftswoche recently reported that the growth of both industrialised countries and emerging markets is slowing considerably, and that the world economy needs a new growth story. Digitization was hailed by many as such a growth story, but at the moment it does not deliver – at least not on a macroeconomic scale. In the United States the economy has shrunk even faster than anywhere else on the world: Yet Silicon Valley is still hailed as the role model of technological innovation. Is there perhaps a connection between digitization and declining economic growth?

First we have to see the bigger picture.

Looking For Growth: Brand Value

The economic performance of GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) stands in sharp contrast to the overall performance of the world economy. According to Google’s new report, the company improved its turnover by 11% in the second quarter of 2015, and is projected to reach a yearly turnover of 65 Billion € in 2015 (71 Billion US$). The others are on a similar course, so the question why this growth does not affect the general economy does become more and more crucial.

At the same time, many businesses at the fringes of digitization are becoming dissatisfied with the political frame conditions. Whether the entire creative industry, logistics, taxi drivers or even telecom access providers: Everybody fights for a level playing field with GAFA. So where does the growth of GAFA come from, and is it perhaps partially borrowed value from other businesses instead of a classic added value?

Where does the growth of GAFA come from, and is it perhaps partially borrowed value from other businesses instead of a classic added value?

A look at the development of companies’ brand value supports this argument. Brand value companies like Interbrand’s Best Global Brands or Millward Brown’s Brandz try to put a fixed economic value to a company brand. The brand value is based on certain factors, like image reception in public, stock performance and financial performances of the companies. This way company brands can be put into performance charts like music or book sales. As a result you can compare businesses in a broader scale in terms of performance and development over a longer time. And while the brand studies of Millward Brown Brands and Interbrand often disagree in terms of exact value or position of a specific brand, they show the very same tendency: Not only does the brand value of digital companies like Apple and Google soar at unparalleled speeds. At the same time, the values of media and entertainment companies have been going down and being pushed out from the top 100 brand value charts. While 2006 still saw media brands like the New York Times or Reuters in the Top 100 brands, those brands have been completely pushed out of the top 100 in the last decade. Also, Apple and Google overtook Coca Cola as the world’s most successful brand in 2013, while Disney remains the only entertainment brand left in those studies (though it has lost positions). Facebook and Amazon are both top climbers in the recent 2014 studies.

So if you consider the brand values to be representative as the broader picture of the branches in economy, then the last decade has not only seen a rapid growth of digital technology brands, but at the same time a very steep decline of media and entertainment brands. This is a parallel development to many companies’ financial performance. So, does the digital economy favor tech over content in general? And is the internet revolution and digital economy not supposed to liberate content and make the entire economy prosper, not just a few digital technology companies?

Continue reading in Part 2.