Brislen on Tech
Free Speech isn't free
"You're an egg."
No, worse. "You're an egg and you smell funny."
OK, that's not so bad. Easily dismissed. But how about this?
"You lied on your resume, you're incompetent and you've been cheating on your significant other."
Well, now we're in a whole new world and that's not as easily waved away.
So what about this?
"You've broken the law, you've stolen money from your employer, you owe me money and you're a danger to society."
Well, at this point you're probably talking about defamation, certainly libel and slander and several other legal terms and it's time to call in the lawyers.
Free speech is not free, but nor is it what we've been discussing ad nauseum (and ad nauseasness) for the past couple of weeks.
A lot of people are confused about what free speech is. They seem to think anyone can say whatever they like and be given a platform to say it, and that there's nothing you or I can do because it's their right to say it.
You are free to say whatever you like, about whatever you chose, but nobody has to host your content, nobody has to listen to it and if you tell lies and defame (that is, bring someone's character into disrepute without proof or legal fallback) then you can be sued.
It's not a "breach of your freedom of speech" to kick someone off your network for abuse of your terms and conditions. Far from it - those platforms that don't police their own T&C and don't police their own legal requirements are in for a world of pain, probably from the offices of Sue, Grabbit and Runne but also from the court of public opinion.
Yet for some reason this month we've seen nothing but chatter about what is and what is not free speech.
Locally it's been a confused issue, and it's not really part of the remit of this newsletter to get into whether Don Brash should have been turned away from Massey University or similar.
But internationally, this is critical in the tech world, because the world's publishing model has been totally overhauled in the last few years and now "new media" is in charge.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the rest are the new kings of all they survey, and they refuse to accept that they are in any way responsible for the content that is published on their platforms.
But if the publishers of content are the people that use these platforms, and mostly they're anonymous (even the ones who include their real names aren't verified generally speaking), then the model of libel we have in play today doesn't quite work.
And if these platforms want to continue making billions of dollars a day as they currently do then they need to ensure they have that social licence to continue to operate. But they claim they don't need to - they're totally agnostic and make no judgement on the content they provide.
This is patently and provably untrue. Germany, for instance, has a range of laws about content relating to Nazi memorabilia and all the social media platforms make sure to abide by those laws. China has laws relating to publication of a raft of various things (Air New Zealand has been hauled over the coals for referring to Taiwan as a country when clearly it's a breakaway republic and should be treated as such, or something) and the social media players either abide by them or they are not operating within China.
They can and do police their networks for content that will make operations difficult, when it suits them.
Many years ago I was given a blindingly insightful insight into the insightful world of sales. There is one rule for sales people - they are coin operated. Give them money and they'll do stuff. Take the money away and they'll stop doing stuff.
All companies are sales-based organisations and that's how they respond.
Forget the fine words and rhetoric - if they are able to make money by doing something, they will, right up to the point where they're either told it's illegal (and they wail and gnash their teeth and rend their garments) or they're fined for doing it (and then they tend to back off if the fines are of a certain proportion of their earnings).
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the rest need to learn that they cannot continue to operate with any kind of social licence if they continue to use (or allow) content to be delivered via their platforms that break the law.
That's not a free speech issue. That's simply the way the law works.
It's high time we encouraged our governments to remember who's in charge of the way we live our lives. Hint: it's us.
This issue shouldn't be considered a tech issue, but it is. ICT has created a fabulous jewel in humanity's crown. A network of content that is so rich, and so powerful it has swept all other content before it. As important an innovation as the printing press, the internet has enabled anyone to be a publisher of content, anywhere, any time. This is the kind of power that has toppled empires and deposed dictators and rightly so. When the Soviet military staged a coup and tried to lock up Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 it failed because the people had this new fangled technology called cellphones and they used them to get organised. Communication must be free and open, but it must also be truthful. As soon as fantasy masquerades as truth, it's no longer a question of freedom of speech but of defending the bastions of society.
The Mercury News - Twitter defends giving Alex Jones a platform
XKCD - Free Speech
Vote early, Vote often
Speaking of cartoons, this week XKCD has a lovely toon on the perils of online voting (see below).
We've canvassed this subject pretty fully at Techblog over the years and the camps are as ever fully entrenched in the "Sure, why can't we" and the "ZOMG no never do this" and never the twain shall meet.
Internationally there is a lot of discussion about the use of online voting, and given the level of interference in voting in the US (and potentially in the UK as well, among others) at both a social level but also apparently at a technical level, this is something we haven't seen the last of.
One US electorate is, however, pressing on and not content with just putting votes into the electronic realm, they're now looking at smartphone voting systems.
West Virginia is apparently looking to introduce legislation that would allow some citizens to vote via cellphone and comments range the full gamut from "ghastly" to "unthinkable".
While influencing voter choice is one thing (and we've covered that elsewhere) the idea of hacking in and changing votes is something else entirely and despite all the noise about Russian interference in the US election, there's scant evidence of that kind of interference taking place.
Before the 2016 election, the FBI did alert the public about possible attempts to hack state election offices after intruders hacked voter registration databases in Illinois and Arizona, but that's about as far as it goes. Hacking the actual vote count seems not to have taken place. Which is not to say what went on was a good thing, but it's not quite in the same league. And it's also not to say that such hacking hasn't been planned for the mid-term US elections or others.
Concern has also been raised about Russian investors buying into a company that looks after elections for Maryland - although the company is quick to point out the investors have no access to any of the voting machines directly. Tensions remain high over the issue, particularly as the US moves towards the mid-term elections later this year.
All told it's safe to say now is not a good time to be introducing novel, untested election processes unless you've got deep pockets to tackle the ensuing legal challenges.
XKCD - Voting software
Security Boulevard - That XKCD on voting machine software is wrong
The Baltimore Sun - Data firm says Russian investors had no access to Maryland's voting system
No CTO but
While the search for New Zealand's Next Top CTO goes on (might be time to pull the plug on this one chaps) there is light at the end of another government tunnel - the one that lures local companies into the tender process and gently throttles them.
For those who aren't familiar with the current way government agencies select vendors for work they need completing it appears to go something like this:
- Develop long list of potential candidates.
- Remove New Zealand companies from said list to create short list of US vendors.
- Chose large US vendor, preferably one with three letters in its name.
- Discover huge previously undeclared issues that will of course drive up the cost of the project.
- Realise your contingency budget was spent on booze at the first all-hands meeting.
- Decide to adopt an agile process and issue a new tender looking for a different solution to the original problem.
- Go to step 1.
I jest, but having heard from a number of parties about the procurement process, this would seem to be part of the game that is played. The deck was stacked, goes the view, against smaller providers, against local providers and doubly so against smaller, local providers.
A new "digital procurement marketplace" has been tested and is set to go live shortly. It's about time too - this one (originally the "Cloud Marketplace") has been in the pipeline for literally years.
To begin with, the marketplace will provide government agencies with a smorgasbord of Cloud-based services from which to pick and choose. Eventually it will include other products and services, but it's ready to go with the basics and that's as good a launch as any.
Minister of all-things tech related, Clare Curran, says the new model should create a step-change in the way government agencies do business.
"It will dramatically reduce barriers for suppliers engaging with government - and make procurement easier for agencies."
Perhaps they need to tender for a new CTO and see what they can find in the new marketplace?
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