The moment the European Court of Justice ruled that the people of Europe do have a right to be forgotten, the warning bells sounded. What on earth would such a woolly, hard-to-define ruling actually mean in the digital age?
It turns out, as many warned, it’s effectively creating a strange, quasi-censorship system that is forcing Google to remove links to news articles that almost certainly deserve to be in the public domain.
Google protested hard against the ruling but ultimately it must comply with the law. So it has chosen to start removing articles from its indexes, and letting the firms involved know. So far the BBC and The Guardian have reported that pieces have been removed from Google, such as a column by Robert Peston commenting on bankers' woes during the 2007 financial crisis.
It is not clear who made the requests, or why, but Google has decided that it must remove them. It could have possibly deferred the decisions to a legal authority, but instead has chosen to become the judge and jury of the requests it receives.
In many ways this isn’t Google’s fault. With over 50,000 requests piling up, it probably felt compelled to start making some decisions. However, the precedent is worrying.
Like it or loathe it, Google’s reach is huge, and removing a result from the index is a very good way of ensuring bad news is hidden away. While for some there may well be a legitimate reason to want a result removed, for most cases the motives could well be more questionable.
It's already been reported that some have asked for links regarding stories of tax dodgers, paedophiles and dodgy doctors to be removed from the Google search index. Again, the motives for this could come from an honest, understandable stance, but the outcome is worrying.
In effect, the European courts seem to have ended up creating a system of censorship, but rather than being the state that controls it, it is the people that have the right to try and hide themselves, with Google seemingly happy to process requests without question.
There are two points to consider though: firstly, the pressure this situation is creating for the EU could force it to amend its ruling. Secondly, with so many online outlets writing about the articles that are taken down, we could well see the Streisand effect come into play.
Perhaps Google is hoping for both outcomes, in order to show the EU courts how absurd the decision is proving.
Whenever a disruptive technology arrives on the scene those who are threatened usually respond with anger and derision.
From the Luddite machine breakers of the early 1800s to Steve Ballmer's cheery dismissal of the iPhone, such reactions are commonplace. The outcome, though, is usually the same, as the disruptive ground-breaking technology continues to thrive and the older system struggles.
So, with this short revisionist history lesson, let us turn our gaze to the streets of London where on Wednesday afternoon black cab drivers staged a protest against taxi app Uber, claiming it is unfairly muscling in on their patch.
The cabbies say that because Uber allows unlicensed, untrustworthy individuals to run their cars as private hire vehicles, they are not only putting the public at risk but breaking the law by using a meter to calculate journey costs.
Transport for London referred the situation to the High Court as it said it wasn't sure whether an app generating a fee for a journey did represent an infringement of this law, but the cabbies are protesting anyway.
This means that streets across the capital have been gridlocked, causing mayhem for millions.
The timing of the protest was seized on by Uber for a fairly nifty piece of marketing, as it announced that its service can now incorporate black cabs, so that those seeking the nearest vehicle could end up in a traditional Hackney Carriage.
Whether black cabs want to be included on the service remains to be seen, as judging by today's protests they may well choose to have nothing to do with it in the future. Those who willingly reject the offer could well end up regretting it, though, if history does indeed repeat itself.
With some reports that downloads of the app have increased 850 percent as a result of the protest, the taxi brigade could have inadvertently started their own demise. Time will tell.
It has emerged this week that the UK's Department for Transport (DfT) would be looking into having Google Glass banned from UK roads. The justification for this decision isn't in question (although we'll look at that later), the problem is the manner in which the statement has been made.
Currently, Glass is not on general sale; it's only available through Google's Explorer programme. We have to assume that the DfT didn't gain access to the Explorer campaign for two simple reasons. One: it was only for US citizens. And two: $1,500 is a lot to pay for a concept device, which may have little bearing on a final product. Plus, the public sector is hardly flush with cash.
We did contact the DfT, asking whether any of its staff had indeed tried Glass, but we had received no reply by the time of publishing.
It does seem a little bizarre, therefore, that the DfT says it is "in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving" before it has even tried the product.
But putting that aside, what's the case for and against Glass? Let's look at it in the eyes of the law first of all. The DfT's website states the following about hands-free devices: "You can use hands-free phones, sat navs and two-way radios when you're driving or riding." But the crux of the matter is what follows: "But if the police think you're distracted and not in control of your vehicle you could still get stopped and penalised."
So really, unless the DfT is really going to push through legislation banning wearable tech, it may just be down to interpretation.
The government's Think! road safety site states that crashes are four times more likely for drivers using their mobiles, with reaction times 50 percent slower. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that drivers holding or using hands-free phones make numerous mistakes and makes it clear that it would prefer all devices, hands-free or otherwise, to be banned.
V3 readers seem to agree, too. Stupot commented: "Looking at a GPS display takes the driver's eyes off the road. This in itself is dangerous enough. How can computer displays do anything but add to the number of accidents on the roads?"
Meanwhile, Kemlyn_IT tweeted us, saying: "It's not about the technology, about the effect on driving. Some have been penalised for eating a sandwich for example."
So while there would seem to be absolute justification for the government to say that there is a potential problem, coming out and saying outright that they would look to ban the devices, despite hands-free phones and satnavs being legal, seems a little short-sighted and premature. We suggest Google sends the DfT a sample of the gadget before it proceeds any further.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who's an excellent backseat driver
10 Jul 2013
Apple and Amazon have agreed to end a prolonged legal feud over the use of the term "App Store".
According to a report from Reuters, the two companies struck a deal to end litigation and drop their case in a US District Court. The deal will avert a full trial, which had been slated to take place later this Summer.
Apple began the dispute in 2011 when it sued Amazon over the company's use of the term “Appstore” to describe its application retail service. Apple, which uses the “App Store” name for its own software store, has sued Amazon over claims of trademark infringement.
Amazon, meanwhile, has countered with a claim that the term “app store” is general and as such is too vague to be patented by one firm. The company had challenged Apple's standing to claim ownership of the name.
Earlier this year, Apple saw its case undercut when Judge Phyllis Hamilton threw out part of the case. The ruling prevented Apple from claiming that Amazon engaged in false and misleading advertising practices by using the Appstore name for its service.
While the deal ends a two-year legal effort for Apple to be the exclusive purveor of the app store, the company's legal team will still have plenty of work to do with its ongoing legal campaigns against Android hardware vendors.
Despite the hefty fines levied against tech industry giants such as Intel and Microsoft, and ongoing investigations into companies such as Apple and Google, the general public has stood to gain very little from competition cases brought by regulators such as the European Commission. Until now, that is.
The EC has begun moves to make it easier for consumers and small businesses to make claims against firms found to have breached European competition laws.
"Infringements of the antitrust rules cause serious harm to European consumers and businesses" said competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia, responsible for competition. "We must ensure that all victims of these infringements can obtain redress for the harm they suffered, especially once a competition authority has found and sanctioned such a breach.
According to the EC's figures, only a quarter of antitrust decisions taken in the past seven years resulted in victims getting compensation.
Under the proposals, national courts will get the power to order companies to disclose evidence when victims claim compensation in a separate country. The aim is to make it easier for consumers and businesses to claim compensation without having to launch separate, individual cases against rule-breaking firms.
It remains to be seen whether the proposals will pass as intended – they have to go through the usual ratification by the European Parliament and Council, but it represents an interesting way to tackle breaches of competition law.
The EC has never lacked powers when it comes to dealing with antitrust cases, and can levy fines of up to 10 percent of a firm's global turnover. Competition regulators can also seek for firms to be broken up, if breaches warrant such drastic actions.
But despite such powers, the EC has proven fairly inept at deploying them. Take, for example, the long running investigation into Microsoft. It had numerous run ins with Europe over the bundling of software with its Windows operating system. And while it eventually fined Microsoft and forced it to offer users a choice of browsers, by the time the EC acted, the industry had moved on. By giving consumers more powers to take action, it may be able to address competition concerns more quickly.
14 May 2013
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently called on mobile phone companies including Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft to create technology that could curb mobile phone theft. Schneiderman sent three separate letters to the firms in a bid to spread awareness about the growing problem of stolen mobiles.
According to a recent report, 160 iPhones were stolen every day in London last year. While it was recently reported that robberies involving a mobile phone were up 36 percent in San Francisco in 2012.
The New York Times has reported that the increase in mobile phone thefts has led some law enforcement officials to call on companies to install a kill switch into their phones. However, the real problem that needs to be addressed is that network operators have little incentive to implement technology like a kill switch.
Whether from warranty plans or new phone purchases, companies in the industry make money when mobiles are stolen. Mobile network carriers especially have the opportunity to make money from theft victims. When a user buys a phone from a carrier they have the opportunity to buy a warranty that covers them in case their phone is stolen.
The warranty gives the firms another avenue for income. If phones had a kill switch, or some other type of technology, the need for a theft protection warranty would go down immensely.
The other side of the coin is a person who doesn't have a warranty at all; these customers who opt to not buy a warranty plan may have to pay for a new phone.
Sometimes, that replaced phone can cost a customer the full retail price of the mobile. The price tag is even more egregious when you consider that most users don't even pay the full retail price of a device when they sign a contract with a mobile network to begin with.
Unfortunately, phone thefts are not something that will be fixed by companies on their own volition. As long as a company can a swing a dime off of a theft, they have no reason to do anything to stop it.
22 Apr 2013
Japanese police are reportedly mulling over proposals that could see internet service providers in the country block access to the Tor network, an anonymous communication system.
According to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, Japan's National Police Agency wants ISPs to block access to Tor if users are found to have abused it.
The report came following a series of online attacks, where perpetrators used the Tor network to mask their identify. It is unclear from the reports what that abuse would entail – given that users' Tor activities cannot be snooped on, it's difficult to see how police would show abuse. Perhaps using Tor would be enough to constitute abuse.
The police are already expecting a backlash to the proposals. An NPS officer told The Mainichi it would try to assuage ISPs' concerns.
Tor has proven to be an invaluable tool for pro-democracy campaigners in the Middle East while censorious regimes such as the Chinese authorities have attempted to block users from using the system.
But Tor has a darker side too, providing a safe haven for thriving drug markets such as the Silk Road, along with a host of malware and cybercrime forums. Tor - or the onion router - bounces enrypted web traffic through multipe servers, making it impossible for snoopers to see what users are up to.
12 Apr 2013
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is back again. Rising from the ashes of a failed Senate vote, the bill has found renewed life thanks to the House Intelligence Committee.
Committee members approved the bill by an 18 to two vote. This go-around includes amendments which supporters say resolve issues with the bill.
Of course, opponents once again disagree. Advocacy groups and the White House continue to express alarm over the bill's failure to address privacy concerns.
Opponents' issues with the bill are the same ones they had last year when the original CISPA bill died on the Senate floor. They fear that a lack of governmental oversight will cause defence agencies to use personal user data for the wrong reasons.
The issues remained unresolved because of proponents of CISPA who say the government needs to be able to handle whatever data they do receive with as little bureaucratic interference as possible.
Both sides have their points and both sides will be fighting for a compromise. CISPA, or something like it, will keep cropping up because both the government and private enterprise have too much riding on some sort of data-sharing initiative.
With reports of state-sponsored cyber-attacks on the rise and the constant threat of local hackers, CISPA is an important piece of legislation for the tech lobby.
Unlike SOPA, which didn't have the support of Silicon Valley, CISPA is technology company approved. SOPA was made for the entertainment industry and its bid to fight piracy. CISPA (and new-CISPA) isn't really about piracy. It's about cyber attacks.
The bill lays the ground work so private industry can share cyber-threat intelligence without the possibility of getting sued. With CISPA, Facebook can send data about a local cyber-attack to the DOD so it can be informed and alert other tech companies of the threat.
In its current form, the DOD can also use that data in broad strokes. For example, it can pick up personal information that was received from a Facebook security data dump and use it for non-cyber threat purposes.
New-CISPA discourages that sort of tactic. However, what exactly constitutes a cyber-threat is currently an expansive definition.
The bill is making its rounds to Congress next week. It may get passed their but will most likely fail in the Senate. From that point it will either revive itself with amendments or its ideas will be reinterpreted in another bill.
Some sort of data-sharing act will keep coming and with the right opponents may come out with stronger privacy protections. How a data-sharing bill turns out will be determined by who ends up fighting for and against it.
Over the course of the coming year it will be interesting to see how bills like CISPA evolve. It will be interesting to see how the public debate grows and changes. Theirs no telling how it's going to turn out, but its becoming obvious that it isn't going away.