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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 06 April 2018, 12:00 pm

Facebook Blues

It's not a good time to be a Facebook shareholder or, I would hasten to add, a Facebook customer.

No, not you with your Facebook account and your network of ties to various old dears around the world - I mean the companies and spenders who use Facebook.

Because deep down, when all the dust and smoke settles over Cambridge Analytica's data scandal, the truth will come out: CA was just doing what Facebook enabled it to do - scrape user data on a massive scale and pitch content to those users. That's what Facebook does. That's how it makes its money.

Oh yeah, and with 87 million user accounts now caught up in the CA scandal (although Facebook itself admits probably all two billion user accounts could have been accessed by third party agents).

If they were just using it to sell me advertising for things I've searched for, I would be relatively happy with that. I know that's the price I pay for getting a free service.

But finding out it's used to send propaganda on a massive scale to people who are on the fence about key issues - no. That's too much. Whether it's the US elections, Brexit, pro-fascist content or even a benign "just don't vote" message, our elections hang on a knife's edge these days and that kind of interference is a step too far for me.

More than 90% of those of us in New Zealand over the age of 15 have a Facebook account and most of us check it several times a day. For many, Facebook is their source of news and analysis and if it's pumping out propaganda put there by the highest bidder, we should all be very worried indeed.

Check out the Buzzfeed link below to a chilling tale of how the top 20 fake news stories on Facebook during the US presidential election got more traction than the top 20 real news stories. Or the Politech story that shows how quickly a new account can find itself totally immersed in a fake news.

But if those things "can't happen here" or are just too bizarre for comfort, consider the Privacy Commissioner who asked Facebook to abide by New Zealand law and was turned away.

If our own laws don't apply for "reasons" then Facebook has no place in this country. Abide by the law or don't operate here. It's that simple. And that's before we start in on the tax situation.

Data for sale.jpg

Facebook CTO Blog - An Update on Our Plans to Restrict Data Access on Facebook

The Guardian - Mark Zuckerberg will testify before House panel on Facebook's use of data

ZDNet - Australian privacy commissioner opens Facebook investigation (WARNING: Auto play video)

The Guardian - Facebook refuses to promise GDPR-style privacy protection for US users

NZ Herald - How to tame industry giant Facebook

Buzzfeed - This Analysis Shows How Viral Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook

Politech - A Look At Who Is Behind The Right-Wing Fake News That Spreads On Facebook

Bloomberg - Facebook Says Data on Most of Its 2 Billion Users Is Vulnerable (WARNING: Auto play video)


GDPR Blues

Speaking of the EU and sensible data protection laws, you'll possibly have heard about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requirements that are about to fall on companies that store data about EU citizens.

Well, you would if you've read this blog, or any of the EU tech sites, or even jolly old National Business Review this week but beyond that you'd be forgiven for thinking it doesn't apply to us here and is of no interest because hardly anyone's written about it.

I got a call from an old contact lamenting the lack of coverage as it's of major concern to airlines, to travel agents, to companies that sell product in or to EU citizens and residents, and yet for most of the mainstream press GDPR might as well be some kind of steam train.

NBR has a good interview on GDPR and Privacy Commissioner John Edwards' view of the impact it will have here, but more interestingly, he's also quite interested in the regime itself and how it will be overseen. This is good, because the Privacy Act in New Zealand is up for review and the current data loss requirement (that companies tell you they've lost your data or face a fine) is great in theory but poor in execution (the fine is a maximum of $10,000. I don't know what a Queen's Counsel costs but I suspect most companies will pay the fine and be praised by their shareholders for conserving company value) so hopefully he can pick up a few tips from the practical side of the ledger.

I imagine Facebook would have a different answer if approached by a Commissioner armed not only with a question about privacy but the ability to inflict a fine of €20 million or 4% of annual turnover, whichever is the greater.

NBR - Businesses face fines under new EU law

The Guardian - GDPR: how can I email data securely to comply with the new regulations?


Unbundling 2.0

The year was 2003 and the newly minted Telecommunications Act's newly appointed Telecommunications Commissioner was going to deliver its his first decision.

The Act had been introduced by Minister Paul Swain in 2001 and had taken a couple of years to reach the point of delivering its verdict on local loop unbundling. Would the ISPs be allowed access to Telecom's exchanges to put in their own gear?

The answer was a yes in the draft but no in the final determination (despite the headline on the press release) - a bombshell from which several companies never fully recovered.

It was several years and a rewrite of the Act before the next Commissioner came to grips with the concept fully and a new era of competition began. Sadly, it was snuffed out immediately as Telecom began "modernizing" its network with the introduction of cabinets - something it should have done years earlier but which it saved up for a special occasion. No sooner had Telecom allowed ISPs and media access to the Ponsonby exchange to witness the launch of competition than it announced the exchange, and most other exchanges, would be closed to make way for a smaller series of cabinets which perversely under the rules would cost ISPs a lot more to unbundle.

Of course, the howls of outrage from ISPs and customers alike led to the next re-write of the Telco Act and, in 2010, the launch of the fibre to the home network, the permanent separation of Telecom into network and retail arms (Chorus and Spark respectively) and the death of the last mile monopoly. So that was OK.

I have mused in the past on just what the New Zealand landscape would have looked like if unbundling had been allowed in 2003 so I won't bore you with it all again, but the term has reared its head once more because now, as the fibre network build nears its completion, the Act allows ISPs (including Spark) to unbundle Chorus's fibre network.

Let the jostling for position begin!

The new version would see retail ISPs (Spark, Vodafone, 2degrees, Vocus et al) gain access to Chorus's network gear to install their own equipment and that's both more interesting but also less interesting than last time we talked unbundling.

More interesting because I get the feeling that after the last debacle, the mood will be to allow this to proceed this time.

Less interesting because the network is key here, not the hardware at the ends, and while unbundling of copper lines would have resulted in VDSL much sooner than Telecom wanted, this time round one bit of kit on a fibre network is very much like another bit of kit and we won't see dramatic changes in terms of service levels from each ISP.

What we will see is different margins delivered to each ISP so it'll be fun to see what that does to the competitive landscape, but given you can already get a 1Gbit/s down 500Mbit/s up plan with unlimited data for around $100 a month, any movement is likely to be nice but not essential from a user perspective.

The rewrite of the Telco Act also comes at a time when the mobile companies are fighting for a share of the noise levels around 5G (hint: it's a marketing name and isn't really all that different from 4G) and the spectrum that they'll need to deliver services.

On top of that, Chorus is suggesting it should be given all the spectrum and be allowed to build its own 5G network because it would be *MUCH* better if we built just one network and all shared it.

Thankfully there seems to be little appetite for that.

Infrastructure-based competition is the Holy Grail of telecommunications regulation and it's what we've been fighting for for decades. We have it already in mobile - three telcos ready to invest their own money in networks - so why would we throw that away for a single monopoly owned and operated by the remnants of the last great incumbent? I'm not sure we will.

(Editor's note: I am current working on a short term contract for 2degrees which may colour my views on various issues. Take that as you will)

NBR - Telco Act overhaul

Computerworld - Rural providers shaking up telco scene

Computerworld - Govt paper advocates ambitious spectrum plan

Computerworld - Let's hope for an LLU flip-flop (February 2004)

ZDNet - ACCC wants baby NBNs competing for customers and upgrading networks (If ever you thought the grass was greener on the other side of the Ditch…)


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