Oh, hello! Thanks for joining the latest issue of Net Partiality. It’s lovely to have you.
This month we’ve got more COVID-19 reflections, with a sprinkle of big data and several cookies to chew on. As always, get in touch if you have tips or suggestions for this newsletter.
The Great Unwinding? Charting post-COVID-19 futures for the internet
In our latest long read, NGI Forward’s project lead Katja Bego examines the potential trajectories of the post-COVID-19 internet. It’s a nuanced deep dive into the consequences for privacy, equality and democracy below – check it out and join the discussion on the Internet of Humans, our NGI exchange platform.
Interesting reads from across the web
Long live the office for responsible tech: Doteveryone, the UK charity set up in 2015 to fight for inclusive, responsible technology, has taken the decision to close its doors. Doteveryone’s work on the unintended consequences of tech has informed much of our thinking here at NGI Forward, and we are glad to know that the charity’s research and ethos live on in the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Open Data Institute.
Pause the brainwash cycle: New research claims Netflix “saves” viewers from an average of 36 minutes of TV adverts each day, totalling 219 hours per year on average. That’s a comfortable nine-day holiday from the ceaseless pressure to consume, phew! It also means that Netflix viewers watch an average of two hours of video content per day.
Ease off, it’s a pandemic: The UK’s data regulator has paused its investigation into the ad-tech industry to avoid ‘undue pressure’ on the sector during the COVID-19 crisis. The ICO’s report last year exposed the sector’s real-time bidding marketplace for not complying with GDPR, in the ‘biggest data breach the UK has ever had’, according to industry experts. Contracts, privacy policies and the use of sensitive personal data to direct adverts all constitute a violation of the regulation, but accusations are flying that the regulator is woefully under-resourced to deal with digital breaches.
Make free the internet: The COVID-19 crisis has solidified the divide between those with internet access and the 16% of Europeans that have never used it. It has been proposed by a handful of political parties in recent years, but is now the time to treat the internet as a human right and provide a level of access with no charge?
Canadians curtail quick cuisine cartel: Restaurants in Toronto have jumped onto a new platform for organising food delivery during lockdown. Fearing a potential shutdown of the US-based service that could leave them unable to deliver, the restaurants are relieved to be moving away from what they see as the ‘UberEats monopoly’.
Not strictly necessary: Wired has taken a look at cookie consent notices, citing new research that shows up to 88.2% of consent pop ups on UK websites were configured illegally, ignored user inputs or used dark patterns to nudge them towards specific choices. Midas Nouwens of Aarhus University calls for a regulatory update: “I don’t think it should be personal responsibility. I don’t think this solution lies in people becoming more informed, or people having to spend more time on each website, clicking on things.”
The internet is a fossil fuel industry: Ben Tarnoff casts a critical eye over the devastating environmental impact of cloud computing in this accessible and unflinching polemic. Tarnoff concludes: “A substantive project to decarbonize and democratize the internet must combine resistance with transformation; namely, it must transform how the internet is owned and organized.”
What are the strengths and weaknesses in the European Cyber Diplomacy toolbox? What are the key cybersecurity issues exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic? Find out at this online festival, free to attend.
COVID-19 tech update
We knew this would happen: Hangzhou’s officials have announced their intention to make their COVID-19 health app a permanent fixture in the 10-million-strong city. In one of the more egregious examples of mission creep during this crisis, the app will continue to give citizens health scores, which could be upped by exercising, or set back with a large glass of wine. “What the hell do my smoking, drinking and sleeping habits have to do with you?” one Weibo user complained.
Europe’s third way dictated by business: Europe’s digital and privacy policies are ridden with contradictions and loopholes, which have been taken advantage of by predatory businesses during the COVID-19 crisis, according to Frederike Kaltheuner and Corinne Cath-Speth. They cite contact-tracing apps as an example where toothless GDPR implementation is failing to prevent serious violations.
Speaking of which…: Three Paris-based cryptographers have subjected the source code of the French Government’s StopCOVID app to a rigorous once-over and found it severely lacking. Their analysis found that the software fails privacy-preserving design principles, and the authors questioned whether its deployment “may merit an independent scientific ethics review”.
Highlights from the NGI community
Does Alexa have linguistic authority? That’s the question Leonie on the NGI exchange platform asked sociolinguist Dr. Britta Schneider. The community goes on to explore the effects of AI translation on language and vice versa.
Nice graph, but how did you get there, and what does it tell us? Our partners at DELab have mapped topic models of social challenges presented by Coronavirus, based on data from news media, scientific articles, the open source community and social media. But what to make of it? Join us on the 3rd of June for an online webinar to discuss and interpret COVID-19 data together.