Zuckerberg defends Free Basics in India

Facebook’s initiative to provide Internet to developing parts of the world, Free Basics, has been met with substantial criticism from those who believe that the service violates Net Neutrality. This Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the service in an opinion article in the Times of India.

Zuckerberg’s effort to offer free Internet throughout India was obstructed by the country’s Telecom Regulatory Authority’s request that Facebook discontinue the program. India has 132 million active Facebook users, the second largest population of Facebook users behind the Unite States’ 193 million users.

Critics argue that Free Basics, the website that offers Internet services, provides more content from Facebook than from other sources. When Zuckerberg visited India in October, however, he implied that the Facebook service did not breach Net Neutrality when he said that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally.

“Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic Internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims—even if that means leaving behind a billion people,” Zuckerberg said. “Who could possibly be against this? Choose facts over false claims. Everyone deserves access to the Internet.”

Article via CNET, December 28, 2015

Photo: Mark Zuckerberg via Mathieu Thouvenin [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

EU to pass comprehensive privacy law

In June of 2012, the European Council approved the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation draft. The soon-to-be-approved final law is an updated version of the EU’s 1995 data protection rules, intended to bolster online privacy rights. The EU’s effort to consolidate privacy laws stands in contrast to the U.S.’s consistent battles with mass data collection by big business and government agencies.

Privacy—a broad and nebulous term—is treated differently in the European Union than it is in the U.S. According to Brian Kudowitz, commercial product director for privacy and data security at Bloomberg Law, privacy is “essentially a human right” in the EU. Whereas the EU has comprehensive law protecting privacy in all its forms—especially with the GDPR initiative—the U.S. deals with the protection of information in a series of laws that regulate different sectors.

The EU’s focus on privacy can be explained in historical terms, Kudowitz added. “You go back to all of the different things that have occurred in Europe over the last 70 years, it’s very easy to see how that perspective developed.”

In a recent Eurobarometer survey, 67 percent of Europeans said they were concerned about not having control over what information was provided about them on the Internet, and 70 percent expressed concern about how companies used their information.

Beyond what everyday citizens think of privacy, businesses and government agencies operate differently in the U.S. than in the EU as well. Organizations protect data proactively in the EU, whereas breaches of privacy are dealt with retroactively in the U.S.

According to Phil Lee, a representative at the multinational law firm Fieldfisher, “[t]his is partially because class action regimes aren’t well developed in the EU. EU countries don’t have a concept of punitive damages in the same way that you do in the U.S.”

Article via Legaltech News, December 22, 2015

Photo: Croatia welcomed to the EU via European Parliament [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Brazil suspends Whatsapp for 100 million users

Brazil’s government recently banned the Facebook-owned communication service Whatsapp for 48 hours after the company refused to hand over user data to authorities. Whatsapp is used by 100 million Brazilians, many who prefer the app to standard texting and calling. As a result, the ban was met with outrage. Some called for the impeachment of Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff; others immediately switched to an alternative messaging service, Telegram.

Law enforcement has been in conflict with Whatsapp for months due to Facebook’s refusal to hand over user data from a suspected drug user. The irony, however, is that Brazil condemned the NSA in 2013 after Edward Snowden exposed the surveillance agency’s data collection practices.

In a 2013 speech to the U.N., President Rousseff asserted, “My government will do everything within its reach to defend the human rights of all Brazilians, and to protect the fruits borne from the ingenuity of our workers and our companies.”

Following Snowden’s leak, Brazil even committed to a $185 million project to construct a fiber optic cable transporting data to and from Portugal while bypassing the United States, so that U.S. authorities could not intercept information. U.S. businesses were prohibited from participating in the project.

In response to the suspension of Whatsapp, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “I am stunned that our efforts to protect people’s data would result in such an extreme decision by a single judge to punish every person in Brazil who uses WhatsApp.”

Article via Washington Post, December 17, 2015

Photo: Visita de Dilma Rousseff via La Moncloa Gobierno de Espana

[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Government requests DNA from genealogy and biotechnology companies

Five years ago, companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe provided the option of genealogy tracing and medical diagnostic tests for customers who submitted DNA samples. At the time, privacy advocates warned of the potential risks of letting businesses collect genetic databases.

Privacy advocate Jeremy Gruber summed it up in 2010 when he said that genetic material “has serious information about you and your family.” This information, if used beyond the purposes of genealogy tracing, has big implications in law enforcement and government tracking. Wired magazine cautioned, “Your relative’s DNA could turn you into a suspect.”

Currently, the FBI keeps a national genetic database of the DNA of convicts and arrestees. Both companies’ privacy policies state that upon court order, DNA information will be given to law enforcement. Yet, as Wired implicated, people have been wrongly accused of crimes for DNA near-matches in the past.

23andMe recently launched a transparency report, similar to other major tech companies that receive government requests for consumer information, within the next month.

“In the event we are required by law to make a disclosure, we will notify the affected customer through the contact information provided to us, unless doing so would violate the law or a court order,” said the company’s first privacy officer Kate Black.

Ancestry.com will not state explicitly how many government data requests the company has recieved.

“On occasion when required by law to do so… we have cooperated with law enforcement and the courts to provide only the specific information requested,” said a spokesperson.

Article via Fusion, October 16, 2015

Photo: DNA isolation 5 via Patrick Alexander [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Facebook’s new report on government data requests

Government requests for data about Facebook users increased 18 percent to 17,577 compared to the latter half of 2014, according to Facebook’s most recent transparency report. Beyond requests for information, governments insisted that the company restrict content that violated local laws. The amount of restricted content grew 112 percent to 20,568 pieces; a little over 15,000 of these were restricted by India. No other country limited over 1,000 pieces of data.

Facebook reported that it restricted content in India that was considered by the nation’s government to be “anti-religious and hate speech that could cause unrest and disharmony within India.”

Facebook publishes global government data request reports biannually, including the percentage of requests the company agrees to. Eighty percent of U.S. government data requests are granted.

Chris Sonderby, Facebook’s deputy general, introduced the report with a blog post: “As we have emphasized before, Facebook does not provide any government ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s data. If a request appears to be deficient or overly broad, we push back hard and will fight in court, if necessary.”

Data on intelligence agency requests is released with less specificity, only in ranges of 1,000. According to the most recent report, the number of intelligence agency requests numbered somewhere between 0 and 999 for the first half of 2015.

Article via CNET, November 10, 2015

Photo: Mark Zuckerberg Keynote – SXSW 2008 via kris krüg

[Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]

Former Reddit CEO urges women and minorities to “Speak up” against discrimination

In March of 2015, Reddit’s former CEO Ellen Pao lost a widely publicized discrimination case against venture capital giant Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers. Despite the loss, Pao’s advice for tackling sexism and racism in Silicon Valley is to continue to “Speak up.”

Pao published an essay about her battles with discrimination in law and tech on Lena Dunham’s website Lenny.

“Unfortunately, some people just don’t treat men and women, white and minorities, heterosexuals and LGBTQs as equals. We could all work harder and better than everyone else, but we weren’t getting a fair shot to rise to the top,” Pao observed after entering the tech industry.

Yet, according to Pao, it’s (gradually) getting better. She cites women and minorities’ willingness to share “others’ bad behavior, data, and their own experiences publicly” as the main source of progress, and encourages people to continue to take part in public conversation about issues affecting them.

Pao’s high-profile discrimination case, though unsuccessful on surface-level, initiated conversations that lead companies like AppleGoogle and Twitter to actively pursue diversity in their workforces.

Reddit users complained that Pao was engaging in censorship when she shut down five forums associated with online harassment. After receiving a petition with over 200,000 signatures for her to step down, Pao resigned from her position of interim CEO.

“I was called the ‘most hated person on the Internet’; a recent article even called me a ‘pariah of Silicon Valley’,” Pao admits. In the face of such hostility, she continues to advocate boldness and offer solidarity: “Don’t be silent… You are not alone. There are millions of women and men who are supporting you and want you to succeed.”

Article via CNET, November 10, 2015

Photo: Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network 2014 – Austin via Dell Inc. [Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs]