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Good and Bad Reads: Internet Health, Big Tech Lobbyism, Not Smart City, Surveillance As A Service

Mozilla Internet Health Report 2019

This year’s annual report from Mozilla focuses on three issues, AI, digital advertising and cities, not smart cities, but how city governments and civil society can work togeter to make the internet healthier.

Mozilla writes: Part of the trouble in explaining how to make the internet ‘healthier’ is that so much goes unseen. As internet users, we tend not to think about fibre optic cables beneath the seas, or the men and women who assemble our electronic devices, let alone about the decision processes coded into “intelligent” machines. Many of us don’t even know how our favorite internet companies profit, or how our personal desires and traits are tracked, as we go about our lives.

If we’re completely honest, a lot of us would probably prefer not to know. Why ruin the magic of the instant gratification we get at the push of a button, hiding all technological processes be-hind the scenes. The downside is that we often don’t recognize the things in need of systemic change before the dramatic news headlines assault us. We prefer to imagine that we are protected: by high tech internet companies, by governments, by other more savvy users.

Get the report.

Facebook and Google Lobbied Heavily to Soften Fake News Regulation

The two tech giants pressured and “arm-wrestled” a group of experts to soften European guidelines on online disinformation and fake news, according to new testimony from insiders released to journalists at Investigate Europe today.

In particular, writes openDemocracy, the platforms opposed proposals that would have forced them to be more transparent about their business models. And a number of insiders have raised concerns about how the tech platforms’ funding relationships with experts on the panel may have helped to water down the recommendations.

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Urbanism under Google: Lessons Learned

Julia Powles and Ellen P. Goodman has written a brilliant paper, where they look at what we have learned from the city of Toronto, who let Google’s subsidiary Sidewalk Lab built a ‘smart’ neighborhood. What emerges from this research and analysis is not a grievance with technology per se, nor with urban innovation. It’s with privatization, platformization, and domination. Google simply has to much a say. As the authors conclude:

The alternative, for the city of Toronto and others, is to pursue urban innovation even with private partners, but only in a way that rejects a central role for any one company—and certainly any role of “co-master developer.” What Sidewalk has provided is a vision where its own upper-hand in platform control, data governance, intellectual property, procurement, and access, has at each turn an obvious and legitimate alternative: the city itself.

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Amazon: Surveillance as a Service

On Amazon’s data use: What is distinctive about Prime is how it incentivizes doing as many activities and purchases as possible under the Amazon umbrella, which not only drives increased sales but also creates a fuller data picture of individual consumers. These data, in turn, drive the design of yet further products and services that create even greater incentives for Prime customers to stick with Amazon and not even consider shopping or consuming entertainment elsewhere.

Get the article here

Silicon Valley Has – Until Now – Gamed GDPR

A year after GDPR came into force, none of the dominant players have yet fallen. No big fines and sweeping enforcement actions, but in stead new forms of data collection allowed, including Facebook’s reintroduction of its facial recognition technology in Europe and Google’s efforts to harvest information on third-party websites.  Smaller firms — whose fortunes were of special concern to the framers of the region’s privacy revamp — also have suffered from the relatively high compliance costs.

“Big companies like Facebook are 10 steps ahead of everyone else, and 100 steps ahead of regulators,” declared Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a privacy expert who helped uncover Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. “There are very big questions about what they’re doing.”

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