Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes has called for the breakup of the social network, in an opinion piece in the New York Times.
“We are a nation with a tradition of reining in monopolies, no matter how well-intentioned the leaders of these companies may be. Mark’s power is unprecedented and un-American,” Hughes wrote on Thursday, referring to Mark Zuckerberg, his former business partner and college roommate and the current chief executive officer of Facebook.
Facebook owns the largest social network, with more than two billion users across the world. It also owns WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram, each used by more than one billion people.
Hughes co-founded Facebook in 2004 at Harvard University with Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz. He quit Facebook in 2007 and later said in a LinkedIn post that he made $500 million for his three years of work.
“It’s been 15 years since I co-founded Facebook at Harvard, and I haven’t worked at the company in a decade,” said Hughes, who later was an online strategist for Barack Obama during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.
“But I feel a sense of anger and responsibility.”
Later on Thursday, the company responded to the call from Hughes.
“Facebook accepts that with success comes accountability. But you don’t enforce accountability by calling for the breakup of a successful American company,” Facebook spokesman Nick Clegg said in a statement.
“Accountability of tech companies can only be achieved through the painstaking introduction of new rules for the internet. That is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg has called for.”
‘Mark is a good, kind person’
In one of a number of security and privacy scandals to hit the company, Facebook is accused of inappropriately sharing information belonging to 87 million users with the now-defunct British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.
Hughes said he last met with Zuckerberg in the summer of 2017, several months before the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House energy and commerce committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2018. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)
“Mark is a good, kind person, but I’m angry that his focus on growth led him to sacrifice security and civility for clicks,” Hughes said.
“And I’m worried that Mark has surrounded himself with a team that reinforces his beliefs instead of challenging them.”
Hughes is not alone in asking for the breakup of Facebook. Some lawmakers have called for federal privacy regulation and anti-trust action to dismantle big tech companies.
To promote competition in the tech sector, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren vowed in March to break up Facebook, Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google if she’s elected U.S. president.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, told CNBC on Thursday he thinks Facebook needs to be broken up, and that the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division needs to begin an investigation.
Antitrust law makes such a proposal tough to execute because the government would have to take the company to court and win. It is rare to break up a company, but not unheard of, with Standard Oil and AT&T being the two biggest examples.
The cars pass almost silently, but you see hundreds of them on the streets. Salt Spring Island, Canada’s green magnet, claims to have the highest concentration of electric vehicle owners in North America.
And it stands to reason. The island, off the B.C. coastline, is just 27 kilometres end to end. A round trip is well within reach of even the EVs with the most limited range on the market. Temperate winters also mean EV batteries aren’t subject to extreme cold, which can reduce range by up to a quarter in Canada’s more frigid communities.
But while Salt Spring Island might seem like an EV utopia, not everyone who’d like a set of greener wheels is perfectly happy. And it’s for largely the same set of reasons keeping many Canadians in other parts of the country from letting go of gasoline-powered transportation.
Size matters in the car-buying environment, and for those seeking zero emissions there’s currently little available beyond small cars.
Need to haul a lot of material to work or a bunch of kids to their game? For those who need more seats or bigger cargo capacity, there’s just one model to choose from in Canada at the moment when it comes to affordable electric vehicles.
“With my business, it’s all about how many people I can get in the van and sell more seats to make it financial viable,” says Jason Griffin, who runs a tour business for visitors to Salt Spring.
The minivan he bought, “was my only real option for a vehicle this size,” and it isn’t purely electric. The plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica runs on an electric motor for 50 to 100 km until the battery depletes, and then a gasoline engine takes over.
Mind you, Griffin plans his trips and charging stops around that to maximize his electric mileage. He says he still has the same tank of gas in the van that was there when he bought it nine months ago.
Manufacturers are well aware of the demand for larger and more diverse designs, and they’re racing to broaden their EV product lines.
Hyundai has introduced a small electric five-seater SUV called the Kona, joining Tesla’s much larger (and more expensive) Model X. Kia has a comparable model in the new Niro.
Meanwhile, both Tesla and Ford are working on a pick-up truck that they say will have extended electric-powered driving range.
Persuading the skeptics
On Salt Spring, where distances are relatively limited, few EV drivers have major worries about how far their cars can go between charges. But buyers still need to keep the range of EVs in mind when it comes to catching a ferry for a road trip beyond the island.
Likewise, available range is a key factor in persuading drivers across the country to buy electric, according to surveys conducted by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
Still, as EV technology improves with each new model year, ranges are expanding and making this less of a concern for potential buyers.
Jim Standen of the Salt Spring Island EV group says his community of 10,500 has more than 200 electric vehicles on the roads. (Jill English/CBC)
“People talk about range anxiety,” says Jim Standen of the Salt Spring Island EV group. “I think a lot of the comments were fair four or five years ago, but the world is constantly changing — and it’s constantly changing in the direction of more electric transportation.”
While Teslas remain the benchmark for extended range, five other models now exceed 400 km. For most drivers, most of the time, that’s more than enough for daily use, allowing overnight charging at home (typically at a cost under $3 for a full charge).
The challenge for EV proponents has been getting that message out to the average car buyer.
Most sales of electric vehicles in Canada are happening in cities, where typical daily commutes are well within the range of all available models.
But those sales — even with rapid growth — remain minuscule. In the United States, 50,000 EVs are sold each month, but that represents less than one-third of one per cent of all new vehicle sales. Canada shows similar trends, though in jurisdictions with rebates the sales are considerably stronger.
In rural areas, it can be more challenging to convince skeptical drivers to go electric.
In British Columbia, a travelling road show of EV vehicles is working to show off the cars, offer test drives and bust myths.
Jen Grebeldinger of B.C.’s Community Energy Association will travel around the Kootenays this summer offering test drives for rural residents who are considering an electric vehicle. (Jill English/CBC)
“People who live in Northern B.C. are driving 100,000 km in two years for business and you just incorporate charging into your lifestyle — just like you did when you incorporated getting gas in your lifestyle,” explains Jen Grebeldinger of the EV showcase.
She notes there’s now an extensive network of roadside chargers across the province — and much of the country — with far more planned. While more are needed, she says, networks of chargers are helping to build the case for EVs.
“They make sense everywhere if it fits in your lifestyle. If you’re driving on highways and in-and-around town, an electric car can do that very safely and very comfortably.”
Price remains a challenge, though, with electric vehicles starting at $35,000.
Grebeldinger predicts price parity with gas vehicles could occur as soon as three years from now, but at the moment the sticker price of an EV can be a lot for a prospective buyer to bite off.
Helping to offset that up-front cost, the big selling point of EVs besides the environmental benefits is a savings estimated at around $2,000 a year in operating expenses for people who are charging instead of fueling up. Although for many EVs, that means five to seven years of driving before the investment of paying more for electric pays off in gas savings.
“It’s not yet cost-effective at this point for me,” electric vehicle owner Mike Greene admitted at a recent rural EV showcase in Rossland, B.C.
Mind you, Greene traded in his 1997 Honda Civic for a 2018 Tesla Model 3. He’s entered the EV market near the top.
He chose one of the more expensive models available, in the hopes of helping to build the emerging EV industry. And he expects, over several years of vehicle ownership, that it will pay off.
Mike Greene brought his Tesla Model 3 to the Accelerate Kootenays EV showcase in Rossland, B.C. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)
Greene picked up his car months ago, before this week’s new federal rebate kicked in, but waiting wouldn’t have helped him since he wanted the Model 3’s extra range. Tesla has reduced the price of its most basic Model 3 to squeak in under the federal rebate program’s price limit ($44,999), but it has done so by limiting the car’s range to 150 km, well below its standard. And, according to reports, the automaker will not allow drivers to unlock additional range on the rebated cars later on, which could temper demand for them.
At the EV showcase, the curious flocked to look at Greene’s Tesla, one of five in Rossland, B.C., a town of 4,000 framed by snow-capped mountains. Because of its isolation, at least two hours over mountain passes to the nearest major centre, the questions are specific.
“What’s the longest trip you’ve been on in this?” one person asks.
“Vancouver,” Greene responds. “Those would have been about 700 km trips.”
He says it took three 20-minute charges along the route.
So far, Greene says he’s had no reason to rethink his decision to buy an EV.
“Had it six months, no regrets.”
More from CBC News
Electric car expert takes questions from CBC audience:
Watch David Common’s feature from The National about why new federal government incentives won’t necessarily be enough to persuade Canadians to buy electric vehicles:
Ottawa wants Canadian drivers to go green, offering new federal rebates to help pay for it. So why isn’t everyone rushing out to take advantage of free money? 5:01
It’s no secret that our increasingly “smart” houses have become a rich source of data for companies. We know — in a general sense, anyway — that we are sacrificing some privacy for the sake of convenience.
Beyond just tablets and mobile devices, many of us have televisions we can talk to, and security cameras and even coffee makers that connect to our phone, not to mention home assistants like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, which are standing by to answer every random question that pops in our head.
According to Cisco Research, within the next few years there will be more than a dozen networked devices and connections per person in North America.
By design, these devices are always on, and always transmitting data.
However, what most of us don’t know, is exactly what kind of information all these networked appliances are gathering and who has access to it.
Now, researchers at Princeton University have designed a tool to help you figure out what all the smart devices in your home are really up to.
As they say on their website: “Our smart devices are watching us. It’s time for us to watch them.”
If you’re live-streaming a show on a Roku TV app, the channel you’re watching could be communicating with a dozen different advertising and tracking servers in the background. (Deyan Georgiev/Shutterstock)
The rationale behind the application, called the Princeton IoT Inspector, is that consumers should know where all the information being collected within their smart houses is being transmitted.
While users may understand that the trade-off in using these convenient devices is companies have access to the data they generate, they may not be fully aware of just how many different companies are linked to a single device.
“Do you have any idea what these … devices are doing?” the researchers wrote. “Who are they talking to? What are they sending?”
For instance, if you’re live-streaming a show on a Roku TV app, the channel you’re watching could be communicating with a dozen different servers in the background, the researchers say. The app is connecting to advertisers and tracking services, all of whom have a financial incentive to monitor who is watching what, when and for how long.
The Princeton IoT Inspector uses a technique known as ARP spoofing — which, it is worth noting, is usuallyused by bad actors trying to redirect traffic from a particular IP address so that they can gain access to it.
Once the app is downloaded onto your computer, the software monitors network activities of all of the smart appliances connected to your network. It shows what data each device collects, who the device contacts online, how much data is exchanged and how often.
The IoT Inspector reveals just how active these devices are — even when we’re not using them.
An Amazon Echo, for example, home to the digital assistant known as Alexa, maintains its network connection even if it has not detected the wake word and the microphone is turned off.
According to Amazon, there are several practical reasons for this, including routine maintenance activities, such as confirming the internet connection, downloading software updates and keeping accurate time.
In practice, this means the home assistant is checking in with Amazon servers — as well as web-hosting services, and apps the user is subscribed to such as Spotify or Apple Music — every few minutes.
It was recently reported that video feeds from people’s Ring security cameras are accessible to certain Amazon employees who may not require access to do their jobs. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)
“The smart home assistants are increasingly integrating with additional services and it’s going to be critical that they help ensure any partners are operating with confidentiality,” said Jules Polonetsky, chief executive officer of the Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group focused on data privacy issues.
The amount of data that is transmitted from an Echo, for example, and the number of destinations it is shared with, isn’t information Amazon makes readily available. While the terms of service do refer to third parties, and how information may be shared with those parties in order to perform certain tasks, Amazon provides no mechanism by which users can track what information is transmitted and where.
Although, to its credit, Alexa does respond to privacy questions, “although at a fairly general level,” Polonetsky said. “Alexa, are you spying on me?” gets a serious response.
When I asked the question, Alexa answered, “No I am not spying on you. I value your privacy.”
If that answer isn’t entirely reassuring, some recent news stories about what smart devices do with our personal data probably won’t help either.
Forinstance, Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the human speech comprehension of Alexa. As part of their job, those individuals receive transcripts of real conversations people have with their device.
It was also recentlyreportedthat the video feeds from Ring security cameras are accessible to certain Amazon employees who don’t necessarily need access to those feeds to do their jobs.
Such stories, combined with the Princeton IoT Inspector’s findings, might make some users wary. After all, our homes are theoretically the final frontier of private space.
Alphabet Inc’s Wing Aviation unit got the OK Tuesday to start delivering goods by drone in Virginia later this year, making the sister unit of search engine Google the first company to get U.S. air carrier certification, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
This means Wing can begin a commercial service delivering goods from local businesses to homes, which includes flights beyond visual line of sight and over people, the FAA and Wing said. Wing Aviation plans to start commercial package delivery in Blacksburg, Va., later this year.
Wing partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership and Virginia Tech as one of the participants in the Transportation Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.
Consumers can monitor and learn about Wing Aviation drones they may see or hear nearby, Wing says. (Michael Shroyer via Associated Press)
“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy. Safety continues to be our No. 1 priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
The certification is good for two years, the FAA said. One pilot can operate up to five drones at once and only during the day. Drones cannot carry hazardous materials or hover over people, the FAA said.
3,000 deliveries in Australia
The FAA said Wing demonstrated that its operations met the agency’s safety requirements, based on extensive data and documentation, as well as thousands of safe flights conducted in Australia, where the company said its drones have flown more than 70,000 test flights and made more than 3,000 deliveries to customers.
Wing plans to reach out to the local community before it begins a food delivery trial in order to gather feedback, the FAA said.
Wing has recently begun commercial air delivery service in the north of Canberra, Australia, and is also about to begin its first trial in Europe, delivering to homes in Helsinki, Finland.
Wing said its data shows a lower risk to pedestrians from drone deliveries than the same trip made by car.
A member of Project Wing loads the Wing Hummingbird drone with a package to deliver during a delivery flight demonstration in Blacksburg, Va., in August 2018. The company said its drones have flown more than 70,000 test flights and made more than 3,000 deliveries to customers in Australia. (Michael Shroyer via Associated Press)
In May 2018, Chao announced approval for 10 projects to help assess how to regulate drones and integrate them safely into U.S. air space. The United States has lagged other countries in experimentation with drones, something the program hopes to correct.
In January, the FAA proposed rules that would allow drones to operate over populated areas and end a requirement for special permits for night use. The FAA is also considering moving ahead with additional rules in response to public safety and national security concerns as it works to integrate drones with airplane traffic.
Wing is touting many benefits from deliveries by electric drones. It says medicine and food can be delivered faster, that drones will be especially helpful to consumers who need help getting around, and that they can reduce traffic and emissions.
Drone usage in the U.S. has grown rapidly in some industries such as utilities, pipelines and agriculture. But drones have faced more obstacles in delivering retail packages and food because of federal regulations that bar most flights over crowds of people and beyond sight of the operator without a waiver from the FAA.
The U.S. federal government recently estimated that about 110,000 commercial drones were operating in the U.S., and that number is expected to zoom to about 450,000 in 2022.
Amazon is working on drone delivery, a topic on which chief executive officer Jeff Bezos is keen. Delivery companies including UPS and DHL have also conducted tests.
A model holds a Samsung Galaxy Fold smartphone to her face during a media preview event on April 16 in London. The launch of the phone has been delayed after reports of the screens breaking on reviewers’ phones. (Kelvin Chan/The Associated Press)
Samsung is pushing back this week’s planned public launch of its highly anticipated, $2,000 US folding phone after reports that reviewers’ phones were breaking.
The company had been planning to release the Galaxy Fold on Friday, but instead it will now run more tests and announce a new launch date in the “coming weeks.”
The delay is a setback for Samsung and for the smartphone market generally, which had been pinning some hopes on the folding phone to catalyze innovation in the industry.
The Galaxy Fold, with its $1,980 US (about $2,653 Cdn) price tag, was not intended to be a mass market hit, but many hoped it would hint at a new wave of smartphone advances — an area that has been lagging in recent years.
But device reviewers quickly found issue with the Galaxy Fold, which is about the size of an average smartphone when folded, and the size of a small tablet when its two sides are pulled apart.
Several journalists reported the inside screens flickering, freezing and finally dying on their test units within the first couple days. Two reviewers mistakenly removed an outer plastic layer that was meant to stay on and reported scratches on the screen afterward.
Samsung confirmed last week that the layer was meant to stay on. But that didn’t explain why many reviewers saw the phone’s inside screens break.
DJ Koh, Samsung President and CEO of IT and Mobile Communications, holds the Galaxy Fold at an event in February. It’s about the size of an average smartphone when folded, and the size of a small tablet when its two sides are pulled apart. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)
An early inspection showed there could be issues when pressure is put on the exposed areas of the hinges that open and close the phone, Samsung said in a statement announcing the launch delay Monday. It also found an issue where “substances found inside the device affected the display performance.”
Samsung said it will to find ways to better protect the screens and explain to people that the outside protective layer must stay on.
Other test phones seemed to still be working well, and so far holding up to the Samsung pledge that the phone can be unfolded about 200,000 times in its life.
The Canadian price tag for the Galaxy Fold has not yet been announced by Samsung Canada, though pre-registration for the phone is now open through their website.
All three social media platforms, including Facebook Messenger, were not loading as of early Sunday morning.
Downdetector.com, a site that monitors site outages, shows Facebook has been down since 6:30 a.m. ET in much of the world, with thousands of reported outages concentrated in northeastern U.S., Europe and the Philippines.
It was not immediately clear what caused the outage or how long the platforms would be down.
An email requesting comment about the outage was sent to Facebook.
#FacebookDown, #instagramdown and #whatsappdown were all trending on Twitter globally.
Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.
There are more than 1.52 billion daily active Facebook users, according to the social media network’s website.
The U.K. for the first time on Monday proposed direct regulation of social media companies, with senior executives potentially facing fines if they fail to block damaging content such as terrorist propaganda or images of child abuse.
The regulations would create a statutory “duty of care” for social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter to protect young people who use their sites. The rules would be overseen by an independent regulator funded by a levy on internet companies.
“No one in the world has done this before, and it’s important that we get it right,” Media Secretary Jeremy Wright told the BBC. “And I make no apologies for the fact that we will put forward proposals here, which we believe are the right way to approach this, but we will then listen to what people have to say about them.”
A 12-week consultation will now take place before the draft bill is published.
While the United States has largely relied on market forces to regulate content in a country where free speech is revered, governments in Europe have signalled they are willing to take on the tech companies to block harmful content and prevent extremists from using the internet to fan the flames of hatred.
Britain’s Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, criticized tech firms for failing to act despite repeated calls for action against harmful content.
“That is why we are forcing these firms to clean up their act once and for all,” Javid said.
Facebook’s U.K. head of public policy, Rebecca Stimson, said the goal of the new rules should be to protect society while also supporting innovation and freedom of speech.
“These are complex issues to get right and we look forward to working with the government and Parliament to ensure new regulations are effective,” she said.
Wright insisted the regulator would be expected to take account of freedom of speech while balancing against preventing harm.
“What we’re talking about here is user-generated content, what people put online, and companies that facilitate access to that kind of material,” he said. “So this is not about journalism. This is about an unregulated space that we need to control better to keep people safer.”
“I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms.”
Believe it or not, it was Mark Zuckerberg who wrote those words, calling for external oversight of Facebook and other social media giants.
In a column for the Washington Post last weekend, the Facebook founder wrote about the need for regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability. The latter is the idea that internet users should be able to transfer their data from one service to another, and not have it be locked down by a particular platform.
Many have questioned the motives behind Zuckerberg’s about-face, wondering if it’s a public relations stunt to shift perception following a series of crises and controversies involving the company.
But other critics encourage reading between the lines.
While privacy violations, hate speech and election meddling are undeniably concerns when it comes to the influence Facebook has on our lives, some experts argue the root cause of those problems hasn’t been addressed — and won’t be through tighter internet regulation alone.
“We need to look at what’s not in this missive, which is market power,” said Prof. Dwayne Winseck of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.
‘Restraining dominant market power’
Winseck teaches a course on internet governance. He says with its behemoth scale and singular control over the data of its users, Facebook is a “dataopoly.”
A company with a monopoly in a traditional, non-digital industry is able to charge consumers higher prices for goods or services due to the lack of competition. In the case of a dataopoly, the results of that unrivalled power can be less privacy, degraded quality of service, and political and social consequences, writes Prof. Maurice Stucke, an antitrust expert at the University of Tennessee College of Law.
With more than two billion users who have few, if any, alternatives to the massive social network and its various platforms — which also include Instagram and WhatsApp — there is little incentive for Facebook to change the way it does business.
Winseck says this is clear in the company’s “take-it-or-leave-it terms of service.” Even if a user is uncomfortable with some of the Facebook’s practices, if they want to use the social network, they have no choice but to grin and bear it.
And in addition to its enormous reach, Facebook is a closed system. It controls everything from the service offered to users, to the data that they in turn generate, to the revenue that comes from then selling ad space based on that data, wherein those users can be precisely targeted based on their behaviour on the platform.
Winseck says to truly resolve the issues raised by Zuckerberg, “we have to start talking about the idea of break-up and restraining dominant market power.”
A campaigner from a political pressure group protests at a meeting on fake news held by the British Parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee last November. (Toby Melville/Reuters)
This isn’t the first time Zuckerberg has appeared to publicly sidestep pressing issues.
When he testified before Congress following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he emphasized the tools available to users to adjust their privacy settings and control how much of what they post can be seen by others. But that didn’t address the real issue being discussed, which was how all that user data is collected and collated and then used for marketing purposes.
So why has Zuckerberg suddenly changed his views on external regulation? It could be the fact that the scrutiny over data collection and misuse was just the beginning of a mounting pile of criticism. More recent controversies have included Facebook’s role in the spread of anti-vaccine disinformation, and its seeming inability to rein in white supremacist hate speech.
After the recent deadly mosque attacks in New Zealand — part of which the gunman live streamed on Facebook — there’s been increased pressure on the company to be more accountable for its role in the spread of harmful content.
As New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put it, “They are the publisher, not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.”
‘Break up that monolith’
Up to now, Facebook’s response to criticism or crises has been largely reactive. To deal with hate speech and foreign political meddling, the company’s strategy has been to implement different internal measures. These often involve deploying more human oversight — not just relying on algorithms to catch harmful content, but having a team of people to intervene as well.
The trouble is — and this is true of all of the big tech companies, not just Facebook — without outside regulation, there’s no one really holding the company accountable. Any effort to remedy the concerns of users or the larger public is ultimately offset by what’s best for the company’s bottom line, says Frank Pasquale, a law professor at the University of Maryland and author of The Black Box Society.
While Pasquale applauds the sentiments expressed in Zuckerberg’s column, he’s waiting to see whether the company actually changes its ways. Does Zuckerberg’s call for improved privacy protection get put into action?
“He is saying all the right things about corporate social responsibility, while an army of Facebook lobbyists, lawyers and fixers continues to undermine regulation,” Pasquale said.
Break up that monolith, and then regulators will have a much better chance at effectively policing the resulting companies.– Frank Pasquale , law professor, University of Maryland
He says Facebook’s public credibility is at an all-time low.
“This is an effort to regain some goodwill.”
For any regulation to ultimately be successful, Pasquale says, what’s needed is an “all-hands-on-deck approach,” wherein laws that address privacy and harmful content are accompanied by antitrust.
“A firm encompassing Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp is simply too big,” he said. “Break up that monolith, and then regulators will have a much better chance at effectively policing the resulting companies.”
Australia’s Parliament passed legislation on Thursday that could imprison social media executives if their platforms stream real violence such as the New Zealand mosque shootings.
Critics warn that some of the most restrictive laws about online communication in the democratic world could have unforeseen consequences, including media censorship and reduced investment in Australia.
The Liberal government introduced the bills in response to the March 15 attacks in Christchurch in which an Australian white supremacist apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live on Facebook as he shot worshippers in the two mosques.
Australia’s government rushed the legislation through the last two days that Parliament sits before elections are expected in May, dispensing with the usual procedure of a committee scrutinizing its content first.
“Together we must act to ensure that perpetrators and their accomplices cannot leverage online platforms for the purpose of spreading their violent and extreme propaganda — these platforms should not be weaponized for evil,” Attorney General Christian Porter told Parliament while introducing the bill.
The opposition’s spokesperson on the attorney general portfolio, Mark Dreyfus, committed his centre-left Labor Party to support the bill despite misgivings. If Labor wins the election, the law would be reviewed by a parliamentary committee.
The law has made it a crime for social media platforms not to remove “abhorrent violent material” quickly. The crime would be punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of $10.5 million Australian (around $10 million Cdn), or 10 per cent of the platform’s annual turnover — whichever is larger.
Abhorrent violent material is defined as acts of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, torture, rape and kidnapping. The material must be recorded by the perpetrator or an accomplice for the law to apply. Platforms anywhere in the world would face fines of up to $840,000 Australian (around $799,000 Cdn) if they fail to notify Australian Federal Police if they are aware their service was streaming “abhorrent violent conduct” occurring in Australia.
‘Clumsy and flawed’
Dreyfus described the bill as “clumsy and flawed,” and the timetable to pass it as “ridiculous.” Labor first saw the legislation late Monday.
Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter, left, and Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, speaking in Canberra Wednesday about the new legislation. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via Associated Press)
The bill could potentially undermine Australia’s security co-operation with the United States by requiring U.S. internet providers to share content data with Australian Federal Police, in breach of U.S. law, Dreyfus said.
The Digital Industry Group Inc. — an association representing the digital industry in Australia, including Facebook, Google and Twitter — said taking down abhorrent content was a “highly complex problem” that required consultation with a range of experts, which the government had not done.
“This law, which was conceived and passed in five days without any meaningful consultation, does nothing to address hate speech, which was the fundamental motivation for the tragic Christchurch terrorist attacks,” the group’s managing director Sunita Bose said in a statement.
“This creates a strict internet intermediary liability regime that is out of step with the notice-and-takedown regimes in Europe and the United States, and is therefore bad for internet users as it encourages companies to proactively surveil the vast volumes of user-generated content being uploaded at any given minute,” Bose added.
Arthur Moses, president of the Australian Law Council, the nation’s top lawyers group, said the law could lead to media censorship and prevent whistleblowers from using social media to shine a light on atrocities because of social media companies’ fear of prosecution.
“Media freedom and whistleblowing of atrocities here and overseas have been put at risk by the ill-informed live stream laws passed by the federal Parliament,” Moses said.
The penalties would be “bad for certainty and bad for business,” which could scare off online business investment in Australia, Moses said.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox, a leading business advocate, said more time was required to ensure the law did not unnecessarily impinge on existing fundamental media rights and freedoms.
Scott Farquhar, co-founder of the Sydney-based software company Atlassian, predicted job losses in the technology industry.
“As of today, any person working at any company [globally] that allows users to upload videos or images could go to jail,” Farquhar tweeted. “Guilty until proven innocent.”
Fergus Hanson, head of the International Cyber Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, saw problems in the legislation’s definitions, including how much time a company had to “expeditiously” remove offensive material.
It was allegedly filmed by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, the suspected gunman who faces 50 charges of murder and 39 charges of attempted murder and is scheduled to appear in court Friday.
A still image taken from video circulated on social media, apparently taken by a gunman and posted online live as the attack unfolded, shows him retrieving weapons from the boot of his car in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. (Twitter via Reuters)
Executives of Facebook, Google, Twitter, internet service providers and Australian phone companies met Prime Minister Scott Morrison and three ministers last week to discuss social media regulation. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said Facebook “did not present any immediate solutions to the issues arising out of the horror that occurred in Christchurch.”
“The rules governing the internet allowed a generation of entrepreneurs to build services that changed the world and created a lot of value in people’s lives,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It’s time to update these rules to define clear responsibilities for people, companies and governments going forward.”
Morrison wants to take the Australian law to a Group of 20 countries forum as a model for holding social media companies to account.
New Zealand’s Justice Minister Andrew Little said his government has also made a commitment to review the role of social media and the obligations of the companies that provide the platforms. He said he has asked officials to look at the effectiveness of current hate speech laws and whether there were gaps that need to be filled.
Little said he didn’t see any irony in that people were watching hearings into a bill that would place new restrictions on guns in real time on Facebook, the same platform the shooter used to broadcast the massacre.
“There’s a world of difference, I think, between the exercise of a democratic function and a democratic institution like a national parliament, and some of the more toxic stuff that you see put out by individuals,” he said.
Britain publicly chastised China’s Huawei Technologies for failing to fix long-standing security flaws in its mobile network equipment and revealed new “significant technical issues,” increasing pressure on the company as it battles Western allegations that Beijing could use its gear for spying.
In a report published on Thursday, the government-led board that oversees vetting of Huawei gear in Britain said continued problems with the company’s software development had brought “significantly increased risk to UK operators.”
The board, which includes officials from Britain’s GCHQ communications intelligence agency, said in the report that the company had made “no material progress” addressing security flaws and it didn’t have confidence in Huawei’s capacity to deliver on proposed measures to address “underlying defects.”
The unusually direct criticism is a fresh blow to the world’s largest maker of mobile network equipment, which has been under intense scrutiny in recent months.
Officials in the United States and elsewhere have been increasingly public in voicing concerns that Huawei’s equipment could be used by Beijing for spying or sabotage, particularly as operators move to the next generation of mobile networks, known as 5G.
Huawei takes concerns ‘very seriously’
Shenzhen-based Huawei said in a statement it took the oversight board’s concerns “very seriously” and that the issues identified in the report “provide vital input for the ongoing transformation of our software engineering capabilities.”
Huawei pledged last year to spend more than $2.7 billion ($2 billion US) as part of efforts to address problems previously identified by Britain, but has also warned it could take up to five years to see results.
Mobile phones are seen at Huawei store in Madrid, Spain February 7, 2019. The new report said Huawei had failed to follow through on security commitments made as far back as 2012. (Juan Medina/Reuters)
British security officials previously said they believed any risks posed by Huawei could be managed.
In the report, the government-led board said: “These findings are about basic engineering competence and cyber security hygiene that give rise to vulnerabilities that are capable of being exploited by a range of actors.”
“NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) does not believe that the defects identified are a result of state interference,” it added.
The work of the oversight board and its findings will help inform future government policy on network security, officials say, but the final decision lies with ministers.
British officials now need to see evidence of significant change, the report said, adding that Huawei had failed to follow through on security commitments made as far back as 2012.
“The evidence of sustained change is especially important as similar strongly worded commitments from Huawei in the past have not brought about any discernible improvements,” it said.
The 40-plus-page report identified several new technical issues with Huawei equipment and revealed that the problems were at a greater scale than previously publicly acknowledged.
These include concerns related to a product called eNodeB, which provides a connection between the network and a user’s mobile phone.
According to the report, the oversight board looked at updated versions of software that were intended to incorporate security improvements but found “the general software engineering and cybersecurity quality of the product continues to demonstrate a significant number of major defects.”
A staff member stands in front of a Huawei shop in Beijing, China, March 7, 2019. Shenzhen-based Huawei said in a statement it took the oversight board’s concerns ‘very seriously.’ (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
The report also said the lab had reported to UK operators “several hundred vulnerabilities and issues” during 2018.
The board added that overall, the problems reveal “serious and systematic defects in Huawei’s software engineering and cyber security competence.”
And, as a result, the board could still only provide limited assurances that the security risks posed by Huawei equipment could be managed long term.
It added: “The oversight board advises that it will be difficult to appropriately risk manage future products in the context of UK deployments, until the underlying defects in Huawei’s software engineering and cyber security processes are remediated.”
The board first downgraded its level of assurance in its last report, published in July 2018. In addition to top British government officials, the board includes senior representatives from British telecom operators and Huawei executives.