Another day another moment I roll my eyes. You see the Guardian came with an interesting article, interesting and kind of useless (OK, useless is a bit of a stretch). Let’s explain that part. The title is interesting enough. When we see ‘World’s biggest tech companies get failing grade on data-privacy rights‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/nov/03/data-protection-failure-google-facebook-ranking-digital-rights), many of us, me included get to be a little curious.
The first part is shown here: “Given a percentage grade on privacy, freedom of expression and their commitment to those value based on an exhaustive analysis of their user agreements, no single company scored an aggregate grade above 65%“, the quote by Rebecca MacKinnon might sound nice, but she should know better in more than one way.
In the first, some of these companies are so global that many rights tend to be an upper level aggregation of the nation with the least rights. If America wasn’t so Prudishly Hypocritical a lot less would be ‘censored’. In addition, a global internet sounds nice, but it is crossing borders with national legislation, the internet does not get to have rights above national legislation, even in nations that are as liberal as it gets, issues will rise and the largest tech companies are trying to surf those waves as Rebecca MacKinnon very well knows. I am even more worried when a company like Vodafone (aka Vodafail in Australia) scores better than Twitter.
As for the grades, the beginning of the methodology (at https://rankingdigitalrights.org/project-documents/2015-indicators/#TOTAL) rears its ugly head in an interesting way when we look at question C3.
Here we see:
C3. Internal implementation
Does the company have mechanisms in place to implement its commitment to freedom of expression and privacy?
Checklist elements (select all that apply):
The company provides employee training on freedom of expression and privacy issues.
The company maintains an employee whistle-blower program.
The items here are the fun part:
The company provides employee training on freedom of expression and privacy issues.
Let’s take a look at some of these ‘great’ techies. Orange, Vodafone and Axiata. All telecom companies. In order of mention: ???,92000,20000. So let’s say 125,000 staff members, so should employee training on freedom of expression be available to all? In Addition, Orange merged in several nations. These mergers include France Télécom and T-Mobile UK, whilst in addition Orange is being phased out by its parent company EE Ltd. (aka Everything Everywhere). And for the whistle-blower part. How often was this a ‘hidden’ option to commit gross and unacceptable industrial espionage? As a Journalist it might sound like a sexy article, but did she for one moment realise that tech corporations need to hold onto their IP on several levels? Her book might be regarded as ‘amazing’ (Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom), yet when I read: “Though the technology used for coordinating and organizing may be politically neutral, the context in which it is deployed is rarely so. Governments everywhere—whether they do business in the home government of companies or in the host government of markets—are demanding that Internet and telecommunications companies take sides, or at least stand back and avert their eyes while the government does what it needs to do, leaving the user or customer none the wiser.”, I worry!
Americans seldom comprehend that the right to be an utter idiot is not a god given right. In some places you get to be held accountable. I will go one step further, most of these self-proclaimed freedom fighters have excelled, through their train of thought, in protecting criminals and organised crime, which is some feather to put in your resume!
In addition, as people are crying for a free internet they also hold others accountable for their own stupidity.
Let’s show this with an example. If we change all global policies so that as per January 1st any hacked account who did not have a proper password will not be refunded, so the issue “Most banks will refund you your lost money after you sign some forms saying that you had nothing to do with the theft” will now include that not having proper quality passwords in place will be regarded as ‘assisted theft’. So you get no refund! I reckon it will take less than 1 day for the entire internet to go crazy regarding the injustice of that ruling. This is the issue, Rebecca MacKinnon doesn’t want a free internet; she wants an unaccountable internet. In her ‘netizenship’ she wants a free internet to hold governments to account, but in her virtual nation she has done nothing to hold those netizens accountable for Cyber bullying, harassment and assault on one’s devices. In that world there is no ‘Netfray’ (a made up crime definition), which might be freely seen as per adjusted version of the Crimes Act 1900 section 93C(2) “Netfray, a person who uses or threatens unlawful cyber violence towards another and whose conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable user skills present at the scene to fear for his or her personal data and internet safety is guilty of netfray and liable to imprisonment for 10 years“.
That part we will not see!
This is what makes that report an issue. Tech companies need to protect themselves non-stop. So, even as we agree that the cyber joke (aka Ashley Madison) is one side, the other side is Sony, which has a massively higher level of protection. In the latter case it is still speculations from many sides (including one from me), but a real timeline, and an account of events that could be decently precise was never revealed. Now I would expect that both sides of the fence prefers to keep it a secret, but in my view that hack was never clearly solved.
In that environment Rebecca MacKinnon wants an open internet, who is she kidding?
Back to that report, because the mentioned items are connected to what comes next!
F11. Identity policy (Internet companies)
Does the company require users to verify their identity with government-issued identification, or with other forms of identification connected to their offline identity?
More important, the part that follows: “This indicator is only applicable to Internet companies. We expect companies to disclose whether they might ask users to verify their identities using government-issued ID or other forms of identification that could be connected to their offline identity. Evaluation: This indicator has two possible answers. A company will receive full credit if its answer is “No,” and a company will receive no credit if its answer is “Yes.””
So as hackers use dummy accounts, trolls use fake id’s and Identity thieves use your id to have ‘fun’ and profit from what is not theirs, finding ways to stop them loses you a credit. There are places where a person’s ID is not the issue, but in this day and age those places are quickly diminishing. If you doubt this (always an option) then perhaps you remember Caroline Criado-Perez, who did something truly British by petitioning for Jane Austen to be face of the Bank of England £10 note.
By the way, the amount of death threats she got, how many of those people got arrested, how many of those got convicted? Yes, an open internet would stop all that! (That’s my sarcasm for voicing ‘no it will not’).
Another issue with her quotes is seen here: “Part of the problem is that this is a new world with the internet, and we are so dependent on these companies that we really need them to get it right. And they have a lot of work to do.”, so how about hammering on proper legislation and better issues on prosecuting some of those offenders? When the internet gets cleaned up, a lot more leeway could be given to something like the internet. In this a nice example is given by herself as she answered a question on movie piracy (September 2012), “the fact they are kids and they’re doing stuff and they don’t even realize it is illegal, or it is not that big deal“, it is only part of the answer, but she makes a decent case, yet the issue here is that it is a BIG deal, these ‘kids’ are causing harm to the rightful revenue of the maker of that movie, so you want an open internet, but the transgressions there are far too often trivialised and for the most they end up not getting prosecuted, you want accountability on one side, but not on your side, that is too uneven a scale and for the most many nations have not caught up with the quality IP laws they need to protect their innovators.
Now, it is not all bad, reading the linked ‘2015 Indicators’ of the Ranking Digital Rights is actually a lot more interesting than the article. A few of the questions were an amazing topic for discussion by themselves and the people behind them had done an interesting job, yet overall how can you compare Malayan company Axiata against Vodafone, or Orange for that matter? Axiata which was only recently rebranded (2009), whilst Vodafone has had a global one-sided (and to some extent one-sided failure) in the industry. A brand that has its fingers in the national pies of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Places where you either adhere to the law or you get shut down. So how can they receive a fair weighted grade? If not than the article and the exercise are almost moot. Almost because there is one part of the article I wholeheartedly agree with: “MacKinnon said remained optimistic the industry would improve its privacy efforts over time. “This is the test you take at the beginning of the class where everybody fails, and then you get to work, and then everybody’s going to improve,” she said”
It is not a mere ‘Amen to that’ ending, there are several serious issues that come to light, especially when you consider players like Apple and Microsoft. In case of Apple (with whom I still have some beef), is the fact that from 1995 onwards I have had a few of their devices, the Performa 630, the MacBook Pro and the G5, all between 2100 and 3000, all affordable and all on the ‘above average’ end of the range when they were released. The iPad 1 (I still have it) at a price that is still good, because that that same price you now get the latest version with 128GB; in an open non-accountable internet that is no longer an option, the billions poured into a design will find itself cheaply reengineered making new innovations no longer an option. Microsoft has a similar part, the Xbox One now at almost 50% of what the initial Xbox360 costs and close to equal in price with the very first Xbox. Even though this sounds good, these firms have had their shares of ‘errors’ to deal with, but overall those consumers (for the most) have never received a sour deal, this is only possible with quality protection in place, protection that MacKinnon is not considering to the extent she should, in her view of ‘netizens and the open internet’ she should get an equal fail grade, both sides need to work on whatever future comes our way, McKinnon know this too!
You do not get to graduate Harvard and run CNN in Beijing and Tokyo without a clear realisation that national borders are a lot more than a mere line on a map, which is what she almost implies, almost!