miércoles, 19 de octubre de 2016

The new bred of publishers for the digital era

For those reading this blog, it is nothing new that Internet is becoming the main source of information for a growing population. Several surveys has confirmed this fact in the last months. On one hand, the Pew Research Centre in its State of News Media 2016 has pointed that 38% of americans get news from digital sources. On the other hand, the Reuters Institute in its annual Digital Report 2016 has estimated that 73% of internet users worldwide obtain news online. 

The evolution towards getting online news could be seen as an expected one in the digital world, but jointly with this migration a new set of news intermediaries are emerging: Social media. Pew Research has estimated that 62% of the americans obtain news from social media sites, while Reuters has calculated that 48% of internet users worldwide has social networks as a news source. More worrisome is the piece of data given by Reuters about the growing number of Internet users that has social media, particularly facebook, as the main source of news. Now, it is only 12%, but this means a 50% growth since 2015.

There is a resistance in social media and digital platforms to be classified as a news media publisher. Nevertheless, the fact is that they are taken editorial decisions regarding which news are seen by their users. Sometimes, they are taken the decisions based on their own principles, like the case of the censorship on "napalm girl" picture. Other times, they respond the demand of governments regarding terrorism fight, altough politicians in UK,  Germany and other countries think social media are not tough enough in this fight.

Algorithms are seen by many people as a solution for the elimination of bias in the selection of news by social media. The Reuters report shows that more internet users trust automatic selection than manual selection (36% vs 30%). However, algorithms have shown its limitations in the selection of news and we should not expect less bias in the algorithms that the bias of their creators.

Social media is growing hub for information in the digital era. Whether the selection is done manually or based on algorithms, Facebook and the others should provide more information and be more transparent on the criteria they apply for the selection, ordering and, specially, censorship of news. Media have been always biased, and technology is not going to change it. We should forget about having digitalisation as the cornerstone for more impartial media, bits should not be an alibi for not giving details on admisible partiality.

miércoles, 12 de octubre de 2016

EU free flow of data initiative vs Alphabet?

More than a year ago, I wrote in this blog how Google had started to drive us towards what I called "The Alphabet Home". Last week this Google business line was confirmed in its autumn products launch event. A more powerful Chrome cast, New wifi routers and a Google Home device are among the presented products. It definitively looks that home will be the new battlefield for the Internet giants.

However, consumers does not look enticed yet by the dream of a fully automated home. A recent study pointed to the excessive prices of Smart Home devices as a brake for its adoption. The need for partnerships between utilities and the Smart Home manufacturers was also highlighted in the report. Probably, both of them are reasons for the lack of adoption, nevertheless, there are other more important reasons in my opinion. 

First of all, we have the security issue. Year after year, we can read articles pointed to the same threats and fears: hacking of objects, DDoS attacks to the home appliances, steal of information, ... it looks that manufacturers will not include security-by-design without a regulatory pressure from the governments. Equally important is the lack of rules regarding the handling of data. The potential early adopters are aware of the amount of data that could be generated from this devices, which companies look eager to monetise with the creation of marketplaces

Once more, it looks that the European Commission will try to innovate with an initiative to promote the free flow of data in Europe. The initiative has at its heart the need to set a favourable environment for Internet of the Things, in general, and Smart Home development, in particular. Both the need to embed security rules within Smart Home appliances and the clarification of the rules for handling data could be included in the initiative. 

Due to the contenders from both sides, the Internet giants and the European Commission, we can expect to listen again the complaints of European protectionism in Smart Homes area

miércoles, 5 de octubre de 2016

Connectivity in exchange for rights

United Nations has set an ambitious set of objectives to be reached by 2030, the so-called 2030 Agenda or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). "The Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom". Although the main objective is to end poverty in all its forms, the agenda also seek to secure the environment, guarantee an efficient and respectful usage of natural resources and achieve gender equality among others high-level goals. The stakes are really high and there is a feeling that the objectives will not be reached with a simple "business-as-usual" strategy.

Digitalisation could be the game changer that would make possible achieving the SDGs. Although it is considered to be hidden within the ninth goal, "Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation", the deployment of broadband infrastructure and services for all is the cornerstone of the global digital transformation efforts. However, the costs are high. Currently, only 40% of the population are connected to the internet and the ITU has estimated that the cost of achieving the connectivity of the 60% costs 450$ billion, around 300$ per each of the 1,5 billion people that will be connected.

The case for global connectivity has been put forward and its cost has been estimated. However, in spite of the productivity dividends and positive effects on personal life of broadband adoption, neither governments nor the disconnected people will be able to foot the bill. Therefore, private companies need to look for new cost effective manners to connect the digitally excluded in both the developed and developing world. It is not a sudden philantropic attack of the private sector, it the conviction that after providing the connection they will be able to sell aditional value added services, one way or the other.

In the developed world, telecommunications companies are exploring personal data as the payment currency for an Internet connection. The price of someone's personal data is highly discussed. Consumers tend to estimated a high cost while companies thinks it is not so much as we think. Nevertheless, it seems it is enough for some US telcos to propose a "pay-for-privacy" model of broadband services. Allow to be tracked while you surf and you will have a discount in your broadband monthly bill.

The offer of companies is not so generous in the developing world. The price of connectivity in Africa and other underdeveloped areas is the complete attention of the user. The value of someone's personal data is directly related with your purchase capability, if your personal data is valueless the price is your whole digital life. That is the proposal put forward by internet.org, lead by mark Zuckenberg. The price of a free internet connection is having the Facebook's vision of the world, the news and images that Facebook would like to present you. 

Many times it is said that connectivity is the new utility. Internet is put in the same level as water or electricity. However, it looks that the only way to extend internet connection to the poor is in exchange of their privacy or their freedom of information. Internet could be the tool for their economic development but their rights are the price

miércoles, 28 de septiembre de 2016

The human factor in a dignified digitalised labour market

The digital economy is accelerating the change of the nature of work. This changes are summing up in the "OECD employment oulook 2016". The average incidence of part-time employment has increased from 2000 in the OECD area (13,9% vs 16,8%) and the same has happened with the involuntary part-time employment (1,8% vs 3,5%). Another interesting piece of data is the general increase of expected monetary loss associated with becoming and staying employed as a share of previous earnings in the OECD area. 

The OECD recognises in the above mentioned report a "labour market insecurity increase". This environment paves the way to the race to the bottom in wages, especially in the so-called gig economy jobs. Weak trade unions and the decrease of the contact among workers looks as the right environment for a return to the Victorian Britain job conditions. This have been the case in UK with Deliveroo, where they have tried to introduce even more draconian contract conditions. An unexpected coordinated action from the workers has turned the tide and set an example for other workers.

Automation of jobs could bring further labour market insecurity in some sectors. This is the case of hired drivers. Ford has announced the mass-production of autonomous car for a commercial ride-sharing service by 2021. But we do not have to wait so longer, the Helsinki Council is introducing self-driving buses. Nevertheless, another recent case give us some clue of the strategy in the short-term to dissolve the resistance of workers: pay workers for not working. This is the case of the self-driving cars introduced by Uber in the Pittsburgh trial, where human-drivers has been introduced as backup. But some Uber drivers do not forgot the long-term uber intentions: Replacing all its drivers with self-driving carsUber drivers in Pittsburgh are begining to ask about their future and to think in coordinated actions to endanger the test.

The cases of the Deliveroo bikers in London or the Uber Drivers in Pittsburgh points in the only direction to gain a future dignified for workers: recovering the solidarity among workers. The human factor can still make the difference.

miércoles, 21 de septiembre de 2016

Human Rights on the Internet

Without any doubts, both the traditional and online media pay more attention to the economist side of the Internet than to its humanistic side. it is not difficult to read all the days pieces of news and reports regarding the new services brought by the digital disruption and its impact on growth, also we receive through different media the news of the latest online consumer services and new manners to  take advantage of our leisure time. Unfortunately, less information and news are available about the impact of the new and shining world of online services on our rights as human beings.

There is a rationale behind this lack of news regarding human rights on the online world: there are more national an international organisations devoted to understand the consequences of the technology in the economic activity and promote the appropiate measures to adapt the production activity to the new paradigm. One of the few points of activity regarding human rights online is the United Nations, nearly all the papers and resolutions regarding the information society produced by UN institutions have some kind of reference to privacy, freedom of information or inequality on the Internet. Unfortunately, less and less attention is paid to UN resolutions in old Europe.

Last June, the UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) approved a resolution regarding "The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet". Although not all the country delegations have voted in favour of the resolution, the document is an excellent base for the developing of a much needed common understanding on the issue. There is a strong connection between privacy online and freedom of expression on the network, as well as we can appreciate new forms of discrimination on the online world that bring us memories of overcomed prejudices.

The commitments of the resolution started with a strong affirmation that we should enjoy the same rights online as offline, particularly the freedom of expression and highlighting the connection of rights on the Internet and the role of the network on economic progress. The Council also recalled the need of spreading digital literacy to overcome any type of digital divide, particularly the gender digital divide, and encourage the development of services that are accesible to all in order to allow anyone to reap the benefits of the digital era. Finally, the Council enshrined collaboration based onn the multistakeholder model, especially in cybersecurity, to combat the new digital faces of human right violations, advocacy of hatred and other kind of abuses.

To sum up, a reference document for the future. I certainly expect the report on ways to bridge the digital divide on human rights promised in the document. Human rights by default should be one of design principles of digital services.

miércoles, 14 de septiembre de 2016

The year that Europe takes #cybersecurity seriously

It is nothing new saying that the lack of security perception is hindering the adoption of online services. Repeatedly, surveys has shown that the issues related with cybersecurity are the main concern that Internet users have about using the Internet for things like online banking or buying things online. According with the 2015 Eurobarometer on cybersecurity, when citizens buy online they are overwhelmingly more worried about the misuse of personal data (mentioned by 43%) or the security of online payments (42%) than  about not receiving goods or services that they buy online (22%). 

In spite of this background, Europe has repeatedly failed until now in the efforts to build a common cybersecurity strategy. The European Commission has put forward several EU security strategies 
  • In 2001, the Commission adopted a Communication on "Network and Information Security: Proposal for A European Policy Approach" (COM(2001)298)
  • In 2006, it adopted a Strategy for a Secure Information Society (COM(2006)251)
  • In 2013, it was adopted Cybersecurity Strategy of the European Union: An Open, Safe and Secure Cyberspace  (JOIN(2013) 1)

However, as the Eurobarometer mentioned above shows, the concerns on cibersecurity issues grows as times goes by. Fortunately, it looks that the last of these strategies is giving its fruits in 2016. Last july was finally approved the first shared EU security legal framework, the NIS directive.

The approval of the NIS Directive is an event that radically changed the European cybersecurity environment. The long period of three years of negotiation has been valuable and the new regulation really has the seeds to achieve high level of cybersecurity in Europe. The Directive will provide Europe with:
  • A higher Member States preparedness level, by requiring them to establish Computer Security Incident Response Team (CSIRT) and a competent national NIS authority
  • A framework for cooperation among all the Member States, both at the strategic as for the operational level of cyber security (although the later is voluntary)
  • A set of obligations for operators of essential services for the society (energy, transport, water, banking, financial market infrastructures, healthcare and digital infrastructure), which will be obliged to take appropriate security measures and to notify serious incidents to the relevant national authority

The NIS Directive is a changing-game event that paves the way to new ambitions. Taking advantage of the new scenario is the main objective of the new EU cybersecurity strategy.

The new cyber security plan for Europe has a two-fold objective. On one side, it aims to increase Europe cyber resilience. On the other hand, it aims to boost European sovereignty in cyber security area through the promotion of its cyber security industry. The first goal will be reached by using the cooperation instruments laid in the NIS Directive and through the renewal of ENISA. The second goal will have a contractual public-private partnership (PPP) between the EC and the industry under the umbrella of H2020 as its main tool.

It looks that Europe has taken seriously cyber security in 2016. The completion of the Digital Single Market heavily depends on creating a secure online environment. It would be better if it works this new approach.

miércoles, 7 de septiembre de 2016

The end of the "mere conduit" principle (II)

Some months ago, I wrote about the foreseeable review of the "mere conduit" principle that we were bound to attend in 2016. To cut a history short, since the origin of the commercial Internet around 2000 hosting providers have not been liable of the storage of an illegal content as long as they do not have knowledge of its illegality. In Europe, the principle is enshrined in the E-Commerce directive. The time for the legal review of this principle has effectively come.

On one hand, the recent wave of terrorism in Europe has provoked an analysis of the role of social media as a tool for spreading the extremism and hate. Since the beginning of the year, both governments from America and Europe have required the help from Silicon Valley to fight against online terrorism propaganda. Although, the social media companies have disseminated their efforts, some policy-makers are not fully happy with the state of things. The measures taken by the social media companies are based in voluntary collaboration and in UK some voices in the Parliament are calling for the strenghtening of the obligation to collaborate. This could imply more legal liabilities for digital platforms regarding the terrorism apology and extremist contents.

On the other hand, there are also voices calling for a different distribution of Internet content revenues. Due to the "mere conduit" principle, the digital platforms have obtained revenues for the publication of links and contents with few responsibility on the legality of them from a copyright perspective. However, again in a voluntary basis, digital platforms introduce measures to to ensure the functioning” of the agreements with rightsholders, like the ContentID in youtube. This relationship model looks it will be reviewed in the forthcoming overhauling of copyright rules in Europe. Again it seems that the voluntary agreements between digital platforms and rightholders would end to pave the way to obligatory agreements.

Of course, the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) are against these movements calling for maintaining the voluntary scheme for the sake of innovation. But this time, even in the USA , are some movements against maintaining the "mere conduit" principle interpretation as it is interpreted today. The US courts have found that an Internet provider was liable for the alleged copyright infringement carried out by its customers. This could be a precedent to be extended to the digital platforms.

So it looks that we are really walking towards a reinterpretation of the "mere conduit" principle. This would create a new balance of the economic power within the internet value chain and surely the end of the Internet as we know.

palyginti kainas