Author Archive

Turns Out SOPA/PIPA Wouldn’t Have Broken the Internet After All

Wednesday, January 26th, 2022

Ten years on, Google has voluntarily implemented one of the then-controversial anti-piracy measures that were brought forward in the infamous SOPA/PIPA bills in the US (SOPA “Stop Online Piracy Act” was in the House of Representatives, PIPA Protect Intellectual Property Act was its equivalent in Senate). Remember those times? Google pushed back hard, using many avenues including its own front page “doodle” (throwing out objectivity and neutrality in the same breath). SOPA/PIPA were supposed to “break the internet”. Google co-Founder Sergey Brin compared it to censorship in China and Iran. Chairman Schmidt said it would “criminalize the fundamental structure of the internet itself”. This message resonated with the US policy-makers and the twin bills were thrown out.

As Torrentfreak notes, Google has now voluntarily executed one of the most criticised actions from those bills; removal of search results. That’s right, no court orders or laws, but voluntary action.

It’s great that Google steps up and takes some responsibility. It would be even greater if it was transparent about those decisions and the principles behind them. Oh, and the internet seems to be doing just fine. The “fundamental infrastructure” works (if not, how would you, dear reader, be able to see this post?). And China and Iran seem to be doing their censorship regardless of what the West thinks or does, perhaps with the support of Google itself.

Yes, I’m gloating. I promise to behave better, just not today.

Fake Xmas Trees

Sunday, December 12th, 2021

No Holiday Season would be complete without some kind of intellectual property infringement going on. Be it knock off designer furniture under the tree or pirate electronics in the Xmas stocking. This year however, Bad Santa may have outdone himself: fake Xmas trees! No, not the plastic version.

The trees were meant to be green – as in environmentally friendly – but it turns out the grower had abused the rules of the organic badge they used. The local celebrities that supported the campaign are outraged. What will be next? Fake snow?

Recipe for Disaster – The Spammer’s Guide to DSA and DMA

Saturday, December 11th, 2021

I write this as a professional spammer. That’s right, I have been making a living for over two decades by gaming, tweaking, by-passing, using, abusing and cheating the systems. The systems that protect your personal data, the advertising auctions, the search algorithms. I offer my skills to the highest bidder and can bring more visits to your websites, make your product sell more or get more attention to your social media. I work in the gray zone between legal and illegal in the online underworld. Big Tech wants to ban me. Policy-makers want to catch me. Businesses want to hire me. I always find a way. And I’m here to tell you that the new EU policies will do nothing to limit me.

The double whammy of Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act won’t touch the sides for spamming, and this is not a glass half-empty view, this is a reality that the bucket of proposals is fantastically leaky.

When the new rules are legal, it’ll be no different to when the EU Cookie Directive, or General Data Protection or other online rules came into force. The rules are always weak, and rarely enforced, and I’ve been spamming since 1999 (around the time when CAN-SPAM Act was all the rage and ROKSO launched, The Register of Known Spam Operations).

I’ll stop selling physical products on platforms or doing anything which needs proper verification, and change the business model to supplying traffic and monetise that. Someone else can register on the platform or marketplace as my proxy. Affiliate marketing won’t be covered, so there’s still an opportunity there. There’s nothing to stop me opening up a “shop” which is scraped products from other shops and marketplaces which links through to the official outlets and yields a kick back when someone purchases from the actual supplier. I’ll diversify into promoting illegal streaming too – those guys can avoid detection in areas of the world where domains are harder to reach. An iframe, inside an iframe with the relay of a soccer game held on a server that’s out of reach of the infringing “website” won’t be covered by either of the DMA/DSA proposals. Or if someone is going to continue selling counterfeit clothing, soccer shirts, NFL shirts, designer bags and alike. They are so easy to source and can also be dropshipped via marketplaces in South-east Asia. The trick here is to never advertise the counterfeit item. Sure, a shop selling items that look like the official item, no logos and vastly cheaper. Punters know they will receive a bag with a Gucci logo, even though the photo had the logo blurred out. There are literally hundreds of sites to use for this including Wish, DhGate, AliExpress, 1688.com, Gearbest.com

The proposals are meek from a spammer point of view because they only cover the message, never the messenger. It’s like going to a bar, if they want ID, then go to the bar that lets underage drinkers in. Every town has one. The internet is no different. No one knows who you are, unless you tell them.

A URL IS JUST .JSON

All forms of spamming, (email, SMS, web marketing, affiliate marketing or cookie stuffing and so on) rely on domain names. A domain name and URL is nothing more than a bit of code, .JSON code to be precise. They are not like a physical address. No one is enforcing. ICANN sends an email once a year asking that you update your contact details. If you don’t want to do that, simply buy another €0.99c domain on month eleven. Sure, for more elaborate operations changing a domain name is more involved and will cost me a loss of traffic, but say the scheme is SMS phishing, like “Your package is ready for collection, please pay the outstanding sum” type scams that link to a website. The value is not in the domain, the value is in anonymity and traceability and the payment account. If domains can’t verify you and payment processers don’t check the business behind the deposits, which is going to stop me? A telecoms company? eBay? Amazon? Twitter say they verify accounts (which is nonsense), so there’s free traffic and clicks to be had!

HOSTING

Five dollars and that’s all it takes to get fully guaranteed anonymous hosting. If you want to be more complex signs up for a reverse host, or caching server. To break-even on a $5.00 investment is hardly a challenge. Lots of hosts now accept Bitcoin, and many promote anonymous browsing, anonymous VPS, anonymous server and anonymous domains, offshore private servers and promise not to hand out any information about our activities to any third-party entity, keeping everything private.

CONTENT SYSTEM

I need a URL, server space, a few automated tools. I’ll scrape content, and replace synonyms to create unique content to that will rank in Google as fresh news content. That same news content can be submitted back to Google News (with some luck they’ll accept it) and places like NewsNow. I can become an authority using other writers’ content, with slight tweaks. Or I’ll subscribe to a paywall website, or newsletter, scrape and report it on the open web to get the traffic. From there I can monetise the traffic.

My options are few. For sports betting combine ripped news content with data that can be scraped from multiple places.

For football streams scrape the upcoming fixtures, and add streaming, live feed or watch live to the titles, and throughout the content. Then link to streaming sites that offer a cut of the advertising revenue. No need to stream content, or take risks with websites that are directly against the law. I can use Twitch, YouTube, TikTok and other video sites to bait the user with a video telling them where to go for the streaming link. If Google allows websites that instruct people how to commit suicide, are they really going to act against spammers?

The best tools can scrape, post, react and work across multiple sites. One tool I use can spam and generate traffic 24/7, fully automated. It works on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and every site in between. If I’ve posted ripped music concerts or film scores to Spotify, there are plenty of tools like Stormlikes, Social Viral, UseViral, SidesMedia, FollowersUp, or StreamKO. And no one will check who I am, or where I am. I’ll rinse and repeat and take the cash.

DATA SYSTEM

Scrape data, repurpose it as original and promote it where the licenced gambling firms don’t dare market it. With that data I can target punters in USA. Ripping and scraping odds from one market and presenting it in another market is easily done with headless bots, a database and content generation on the fly, so in fact you are not liable for anything because the data presented is asynchronous. And if it’s illegal to take wagers from US punters, we will use a Bitcoin exchange in a third country, perhaps in the Caribbean, so I can make on the bet and the transaction.

The bait is a promise of streaming, gambling, films, torrents, TV, games. And with a good site there are plenty of places to drop the link. Twitch, YouTube, Reddit, Socials and even paying webmasters at newspapers to drop links in old articles on trusted site are fair game for getting traffic.

HACKING THE SYSTEM

I’m not alone in skirting the rules. Chinese sellers will continue to send a container of goods to Europe, then pay import duty, but register as someone in Hong Kong. With the goods in the EU they can ship inside EU, pay no sales tax, just pay small amount of import duty and get a friend to do the shipping. Countries lose VAT etc. If there’s a requirement to have a legally responsible person, then for Chinese sellers, a student or fake profile will be used. It’s not difficult to buy passports, electricity bills, fake bank statements online. And if a platform starts checking ID, they’ll buy hacked accounts or rent accounts.

It’s the same thing that’s going on with PayPal, eBay, UberEats for workers, Uber driver accounts and many more. Next time you order a food delivery, check the photo of the driver; does it match the person who actually showed up with the food? In many instances no, because the market for account rentals is huge.

No marketplace or platform has ever taken this seriously, and they don’t make proper checks.

CHOOSE “no log” VPN provider

The policy acts assume there are digital transactions? What if the transaction is a deposit or referral or scam? Selling hooky software doesn’t happen on mainstream platforms. Forums and bulletin boards won’t be as policed and might not even be covered by the acts.

Reverse proxies to market gambling to US residents, potentially illegal and risky for wire fraud but many do it.

So in the EU, am I going to give up my livelihood because of some regulation aimed at platforms? No chance. Do your worst, eurocrats – I won’t be losing any sleep before the platforms themselves step in.

 

 

The (Non-)Democracy Machine – How the Tech Giants Gave in to Kremlin

Monday, September 27th, 2021

There used to be a time when the internet was meant to bring democracy to the oppressed. Swedish foreign aid authority SIDA co-funded anonymization technology. The Arab spring was called a “social media revolution”. Tech companies played the democracy card when facing criticism.

Much has changed since those days. Secret police figured out how to track down dissenters using digital technology. Facebook spawned a genocide in Myanmar. The spread of conspiracy theories led to the Capitol Hill riots in Washington DC.

And in the recent elections to the Russian duma, the opposition’s “Smart Voting”-app was removed by Apple and Google. The idea behind smart voting was to focus opposition votes on the non-Kremlin candidates most likely to make the five-percent threshold. Apparently Big Tech found it more important to make friends with the people in power than to support dissenters. Is this the end of the myth that internet brings democracy?

Deep Fakes in the Uncanny Valley

Sunday, August 29th, 2021

How fun to watch deep fakes of old favorite movies! Here is one with the classic 80’s action flick muscle stars Sylvester Stallone’s and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s faces projected on main characters Dale and Brennan in Step Brothers. It’s cute, Sly and Arnold used to be competitors in the box office back in the day, but in later years worked together in movies like The Expendables and Escape Plan. Much like John C Reilly’s and Will Ferrell’s characters in Step Brothers went from adversaries to best friends.

Deep fakes raise many questions, what can we trust in the online world? What if your face appeared in a video, saying something you would never? Who do you push back on something like that? The Step Brothers deep fake probably won’t fool anyone – the movie is familiar, the actors well-known and in any case there is something weird about the faces. Or is there?

Robot designers and video game makers struggle with a problem called the “Uncanny Valley” – it is possible to make a robot or a game character that looks perfectly realistic like a human being. But when it starts moving and talking, it feels weird. The facial expressions are off, or the timing, or something else – could be difficult to put one’s finger on it. It is possible to fool the eye but not the brain. The effect, the gap between expectation and behaviour, is unpleasant, or uncanny. The design is right on the edge of the uncanny valley. The jump to the other side, where the impression matches the visuals in harmony, is not a gradual improvement but a single big leap that no one has made (yet).

Robot designers tend to avoid the uncanny valley by making robots that look nothing like humans. Video game artists often aim for photo-realistic visuals but avoid going to close to the valley’s edge. Conceptual art, however, might seek out the effect, making a point of the uncanny (such as this video by Swedish artist Tove Kjellmark [sensitive viewers are warned!]).

Will deep fakes be able to make the leap to the other side of the uncanny valley? Is it only a question of better technology? Or is there is something more profound in us, that will always sense there is something wrong? It may be a philosophical question, or even religious. But if deep fakes (or some other technology) one day will make it to the other side… where does that leave us? A place where there is no knowing what is real and what is not. Perhaps that is the real meaning of uncanny.

Law for the Excluded Middle

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Most of the headaches of the digital world seem to have one common denominator: there is someone in the middle who could do something but doesn’t. Whether it’s fake news, terrorism content, revenge porn, abuse of workers’ rights, copyright infringement, cyber-attacks… you name it: the list goes on (and ought to be familiar by now).

The answer is often to address such issues by adding more: privacy regulation via authorities, educating the users to do better, via the police and courts – but rarely by demanding action from the middleman. (That would “break the internet”.)

Does it have to be like that? That is a rhetorical question, the answer is “no, it doesn’t have to be like that”. Take my favourite example: video games. Some games may be controversial and rely on freedom of expression, but instead of saying “any restriction would break the internet”, games have age-recommendations and parental controls in answer to the concerned. This kind of self-regulation (with independent oversight boards) is common in advertising, press and many other places. I have written more about that here.

Earlier this month, Tobias Schmidt – chair of ERGA (the European audiovisual media regulators) – said to Politico that the EU’s suggested content moderation rules are “toothless” and sanctions are needed (rather than sending letters). One might add that if sanctions are fines, they may be just as toothless, as some of the platforms see fines more like the cost of doing business. So much for “we comply with local regulation”. (Really? You want a medal for not breaking the law?)

The idea that the intermediary should take action, not because it does anything wrong but because it can, is everywhere: hotels must act against trafficking, banks have strict rules on money-laundering, printshops are not allowed to make copyright infringing prints, transport companies must act on suspicion of illegal goods etc etc. Even car makers try to stop their vehicles from ending up in the hands of terrorists.

In the digital world, exemption from liability of what users do with a service is the norm. That has benefits for sure, easy access to distribution for all users. However, it appears that the European policy-makers are looking at the middlemen to help fix the internet. In the Digital Services Act, “due diligence” procedures such as an official point of contact, transparency reporting, codes of conduct, reporting criminal offences and so on (more due diligence for bigger players – with great powers…). Sounds great, but also begs a question: why not connect those due diligence obligations to the exemption from liability? That way, the EU Commission could fix the internet without breaking it. Have the cake AND eat it! Get all the juicy stuff – innovation, growth, digital champions – without the headaches and nosebleeds of fake news and revenge porn.

Surely the COMM has thought of that? If no, happy to send a link to this post. If yes, why not connect the dots?

Big Tech through Marx’s Lens: Digital Economy as Good Old Colonial Capitalism

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

Review of The Cost of Connection: How Data Colonizes Human Life and Appropriates it for Capitalism (Stanford University Press) by Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Miejas

This is a book about a topic familiar to readers of Netopia: It’s about how the world’s tech giants (not limited to those in Silicon Valley) are amassing more and more power, and how they are doing this not only with means of fancy technology, but also good with old ideology. What’s new and exciting about The Cost of Connection is that it adds a new and overarching story to that familiar topic. More importantly, the book illustrates the merits and also the shortcomings of a Marx-inspired interpretation of the digital order.

It’s about how the world’s tech giants (not limited to those in Silicon Valley) are amassing more and more power, and how they are doing this not only with means of fancy technology, but also good with old ideology.

The story which Nick Couldry, Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory at the London School of Economics, and Ulises A. Mejias, Professor of Communication Studies at Owego State University of New York, unfold is about the nexus between capitalism and colonialism. Yes: colonialism. Literally. Not “colonisation”. According to Couldry and Mejias, we are witnessing these very days the ultimate stage of what, in Marx’ terms, is known as “primitive accumulation” or, in more contemporary phrasing, “accumulation by dispossession”. “Primitive accumulation” describes how capitalists gain power and money. It’s not just by hard work, thus the claim, and by taking advantage of the law and the state’s institutions that are designed to protect the property of the wealthy, but by brute force and subjugation. People must be driven away from the land they cultivate in order to become willing to trade their autonomy for employment. Historically, “primitive accumulation” has been enacted by colonialism. This is why capitalism and colonialism really are just two sides of the same coin – “one side enacting dispossession in a brutal and rampant manner and the other normalizing this process by relegating it to the outside (outside the present, outside the civilized, outside the measurable, and so on).”

End users: Treated just like natives in the Americas by the Conquistadors
How does this relate to data? Here’s the bridge: The Conquistadors, the Spanish conquerors of the 16th and 17th centuries, read declarations in Spanish to the people whom they encountered as inhabitants of the Americas – asking the natives to subjugate themselves to the church. Nothing different, the authors of “The Cost of Connection” claim, happens when tech- and social media companies ask their users to sign lengthy end user agreements. Users as well as natives are not able to understand what they are asked to accept.

“The Cost of Connection” claim, happens when tech- and social media companies ask their users to sign lengthy end user agreements. Users as well as natives are not able to understand what they are asked to accept.

Thus, the act of presenting an agreement rather is a tool for the conquerors to make appear an act as legal (to themselves as well to a wider public) which in fact is a mere subjugation. The appropriation of data and the subjugation by means of physical force, the authors argue, should both be read as a chapter in the history of colonialism, because in both instances colonialism can be understood “as a process that allows one party to occupy the living space of another and appropriate his resources, overpowering him through a combination of ideological rationalizations and technological means.” It’s this “because” on which the book’s main claim is based. Let’s accept it, for the sake of the argument!

It’s quite impressive to read what the two communication professors come up with to describe what the appropriation of resources and the occupation of people’s living space in the digital realm amounts to. The price is one thing. Every Facebook user, Couldry and Mejias state, is worth more than 230 US-dollars to the company, every WeChat-user more than 540 dollars. For the companies, it’s money. To the users, it’s a total devaluation of social relations, which all of the sudden become market commodities. To turn social relations into cash, a whole empire of digital technologies has been constructed, reaching from users’ end devices to cables, IT-infrastructure and data. What one should not forget: Data from private end user, which are dealt with in the “social quantification sector”, are only the tip of the iceberg. The amount of date generated by businesses exceeds data by social quantification sector.
The knowledge which, in the old days was encoded into maps and was in the hand of scientific and geographical societies, is nowadays under control of a few large corporations:

[…] the appropriation of resources and the occupation of people’s living space in the digital realm amounts to. The price is one thing. Every Facebook user, Couldry and Mejias state, is worth more than 230 US-dollars to the company, every WeChat-user more than 540 dollars.

Institutions such as […] the Royal Geographical Society in London would function as information repositories and map production centers at which standardized survey data would be organized into […] reports on the natural an social history of colonized territories. Other institutions such as the Dutch East India Company maintained extensive botanical gardens to collect knowledge about plant species from the colonies. […] Today, data centers serve similar functions by storing data and ‘mining’ it – a pertinent colonial metaphor – to produce new knowledge for the benefit of corporations.

And, yes, there still are colonies in the more literal sense:
Raw materials for the electronic infrastructure […] still come from Africa, Asia, and Latin America […]. Massive energy usage translates into pollution that, along with the dumping of toxic waste from the electronics industry, continues to impact poor communities disproportionately (by 2007 80 % of electronic waste was exported to the developing world). […] Much of the labor […] is still located in places such as Asia, where it is abundant and cheap. In China, manufacturer Foxconn, responsible for about half of the world’s electronics production, employs a massive workforce of one million laborers who are managed under military-style conditions.

Call to action?
Seen against the larger background of the capitalist-colonialism-nexus-stories, issues like fake news, media regulation and digital surveillance appear like mere surface issues. Peanuts. Couldry and Mejias state very explicitly that, in their view, transparency, laws, media literacy or even digital activism will not do the job when it comes to resistance against today’s digital capitalism-colonalism. They express no hope that the state or the European Union could step to help. To the contrary. Although they do not go as far as to claim that the nation state (or the EU) is merely the colonial-capitalist’s fulfilment assistant (in line with their Marx-inspired interpretation), they are eager to point out that the public sector, too, is to be seen on the side of the offender, not the victim. When social services in the UK, in the US or in Alaska employ artificial intelligence for instance to predict areas of high crime or child injuries in families, public authorities have no access to the algorithms that generate the risk assessments. In the era of “datafication”, what used to be based on written or spoken arguments, is now solved relying on numbers only. Decision-making in the public is handed over to the control of algorithmic processes which in turn are controlled by private companies.

What I refuse to accept is that engaging in digital politics is as futile as Couldry and Mejias suggest. Putting things in a larger perspective is fine. Less fine it is if this perspective leads to paralysis when it comes to political action.

Not surprisingly, thus, Couldry and Mejias have little to say when it comes to recipes for action. “No default collection of data.” “No reuse without consent.” That’s about all they have to offer. If one takes a look at Mejias’ blog, one encounters many projects which rather follow the idea of building non-digital environments and networks than to engage in any form of digital politics.

For myself, I enjoyed reading The Cost of Connection as an introduction to contemporary anti-capitalist thinking. Also, the proposal to interpret the digital economy as a new phase or even a spike of old-fashioned- capitalism seems to me more appealing than regarding it just as a special kind of capitalism (as argued by Shoshana Zuboff) – be it only because it broadens the historical perspective. But what I refuse to accept is that engaging in digital politics is as futile as Couldry and Mejias suggest. Putting things in a larger perspective is fine. Less fine it is if this perspective leads to paralysis when it comes to political action. Delivering a Marx-inspired reading of the digital sphere that results in new kinds of actions that can be undertaken in terms of resistance is a job which still has to done.

Who Won the YouTube CJEU Case?

Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

Three questions to Dr. Eleonora Rosati, Full Professor of Intellectual Property Law and Director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Market Law (IFIM) at Stockholm University

Last month, the Court of Justice of the European Union handed down its ruling in two cases relating to internet platforms’ liability in relation to copyright infringement by users. One case concerned music videos on YouTube, the other medical text books on a file-hosting platform called Uploading. Both cases were referred by German courts. Netopia turned to Dr Eleonora Rosati to better understand the ruling.

The ruling was broadcast as a win for YouTube. Do you agree? Who won the case?

I am not sure that the situation is necessarily necessarily so clear-cut.

CJEU is not a judge of the facts: it will be for the national court to apply the relevant legal teachings ….and determine if YouTube is liable or not

In light of the information that the referring court provided to the Court of Justice, the latter appeared inclined to consider that a platform like YouTube would not communicate to the public, at least under Article 3 of the InfoSoc Directive.

This said, the CJEU is not a judge of the facts: it will be for the national court to apply the relevant legal teachings of the ruling to the circumstances at hand and determine if YouTube is liable or not.

As a matter of fact, the ruling considers both the scenario in which the referring court finds YouTube liable and the scenario in which YouTube is not liable.

The Digital Single Market-directive’s (in)famous Article 17 is close to the cases the CJEU looked at. Does this ruling have any relevance once the DSM-directive is implemented?

Absolutely. I give 3 examples.

First, it serves to determine at what conditions those internet actors that do not qualify for the application of Article 17 because they are not online content sharing service providers (OCSSP) are to be regarded as performing acts of communication to the public.

Secondly, it is directly relevant to the application of Article 17 because it clarifies at what conditions the hosting safe harbour is available.

Thirdly, there are parts of the judgment that may indirectly serve to interpret the notion of ‘best efforts’ in Article 17(4).

 

It seems the ruling raises almost as many questions as it answers. When will we see a final decision for online platforms and rights-holders?

[…] upcoming legislation like the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, all indicate that things will remain ‘lively’ for while

I guess that the answer is: not in the immediate future!

It is likely that there will be significant litigation surrounding the interpretation and application of inter alia Article 17, provided that it survives the Polish challenge.

The inherent complexity of that provision, together with the ever-evolving advancement of technology, as well as upcoming legislation like the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, all indicate that things will remain ‘lively’ for while.

 

Dr. Eleonora Rosati is Full Professor of Intellectual Property Law and Director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Market Law (IFIM) at Stockholm University. She is also Of Counsel at Bird & Bird, Guest Professor at CEIPI-Université de Strasbourg, Associate of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law (CIPIL) at the University of Cambridge, and Research Associate at EDHEC Business School. A long-standing contributor to The IPKat and an Editor of the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (Oxford University Press), Eleonora is the author of several articles and books on IP issues, including – most recently – Copyright and the Court of Justice of the European Union (Oxford University Press:2019) and Copyright in the Digital Single Market – Article-by-Article Commentary to the Provisions of Directive 2019/790 (Oxford University Press:2021). In 2018, Managing Intellectual Property included her among the ’50 Most Influential People in IP’; in 2020, World Intellectual Property Review listed Eleonora among its ‘Influential Women in IP’.

If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

“But… if we don’t do it, somebody else will” – ever heard that? It’s the worst excuse ever, but it can be used to justify anything – pushing drugs at the schoolyard, selling “dual use” surveillance tech to dictators and now, apparently, hosting child pornography. If we don’t do it, somebody else will. And it’s like 20% of our revenue … As famously sung by the Manic Street Preachers: “If you tolerate this your children will be next” (citing Aneurin Bevan, founder of the British National Health Service). Except in this case, that bridge has already been crossed: sacrificing children for 20% of revenue.

The case in point is Dutch internet hosting provider NForce which hosts 93% of child abuse material in the Netherlands, according to sources to NRC. Operations director Dave Bakvis commented that it is difficult to monitor everything, most content is legal, there is sometimes over-blocking… and if we don’t do it, somebody else will. If this sounds like you’ve heard it all before, it’s because you have. This is a throwback to the debates around ISP liability last decade.

Illegal content has always been an unwelcome topic for digital infrastructure companies but child abuse material has been the exception, so controversial even some of the most hard-headed internet freedom fighters have accepted action is necessary (you could say other things than the consciences of broadband carriers board members should decide such things, but whaddayknow). So ISPs block access to such material based on lists provided from the police or NGOs. Keep in mind, this is about providing access, hosting is a different story: actually renting the server space, sending invoices to those who provide the abuse material. Difficult to pretend you know nothing if it shows up on your bank statement.

Internet companies love to compare themselves with things like road-keepers and post offices, to suggest they have nothing to do with the content or traffic (so does mr Bakvis). Those are horrible comparisons! While the road-keeper may have no idea who uses the road, there is no need for the police to get their support in order to uphold the law on the road. They just drive their police cars and set up a checkpoint and do whatever police do. Also, last time I looked cars have license plates which identify the owner. The post service has strict rules on what can be sent in the mail and a duty to act on suspicion. If the mail crosses a border, custom rules apply. If internet companies would act as road-keepers or the post, these problems would be solved.

Dear mr Bakvis. You can do better than this.

Football’s Social Media Boycott

Sunday, May 2nd, 2021

The Bank Holiday weekend in May is a big occasion in English football, but this year is different. Protesting against social media’s inaction toward racist abuse online, in a rare move the major football organisations in England come together in a four-day boycott. Contrary to many actions, this has a real price, the social media attention around football this weekend is worth mucho dinero, but English football decides it’s more important to take a unified stand against racism and demand action from those who own the platforms where it is distributed. The demands are straight-forward:

filtering, blocking and swift takedowns of offensive posts, an improved verification process and re-registration prevention, plus active assistance for law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute originators of illegal content.

If this sounds familiar, it is not the first time anyone has brought demands that social media companies take responsibility for the negative impacts of the services they provide. The question is: who can make Big Tech step up? There are many candidates, but so far with limited success. Staff walk-outs have been tried, different flavours of government intervention, advertiser boycotts, share-holder protests, users departing… so far none of this has put more than a small dent in the stock price graphs of social media companies.

If users, owners, government, media, advertisers, or staff couldn’t influence Big Tech, perhaps footballers will?

Transparency: Premier League is one of Netopia’s supporters