Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Two sides of online censorship

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Communications minister Ed Vaizey recently commented on the planned additions to the EU data protection directive saying changes need to be both “practical and proportionate”. The additions focus on the right to be forgotten online, particularly for users of social networking sites. That could require websites to delete data held about individuals and inform people how their personal information is handled.

Vaizey says he’s concerned the directive could give people false expectations, saying: ‘No government can guarantee that photos shared with the world will be deleted by everyone when someone decides it’s time to forget.’ The minister is worried that implementing revisions could “stifle innovation”, although he doesn’t explain how allowing users to control their personal information could result in hindering international business development.

Internet users do need more information about how their data is stored and used – and that should be readily provided by website owners – but giving individuals a right to delete personal data from the internet is obviously the more contentious point, perhaps stemming from an idea that people will use a right to be forgotten to edit personal history to the detriment of free speech.

Interestingly, Vaizey is also one of the main players in the proposed ‘Great Firewall of Britain’, a self-regulatory scheme which would allow the government to block websites that music and film companies accuse of copyright infringement. Several civil liberties groups, including The Open Rights Group (ORG), have raised concerns that this could lead to a heavy-handed approach resulting in excessive legal claims and censorship of legitimate material.

Jim Killock of ORG called this proposal a backdoor private arrangement between the government and rights-holders without the scrutiny that judges or a formal act of parliament would require. The democracy of the scheme is certainly called into question – who will decide which sites can be blocked and why? Who will oversee these decisions to make sure they are democratic? It seems that ISPs would be allowed to blacklist censored sights with no judicial review.

Vaizey is concerned that implementing a right to be forgotten could stifle innovation. But the proposed firewall has been accused of leading to a situation where censorship could be done at will. The message seems to be that giving individuals the right to block or delete online is dangerous, while large corporations and the state can go right ahead.

Public call for stronger data protection

Friday, November 26th, 2010

UK Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has handed out the first fines for breaches of the Data Protection Act saying they will “send a strong message” to those handling data.

The commissioner was given the ability to fine organisations up to £500,000 for breaching the Act earlier this year. Hertfordshire County Council was fined £100,000 for sending two faxes regarding a child sex abuse case to the wrong recipient. Sheffield-based company A4e was fined £60,000 after a computer containing the unencrypted data of 24,000 people was lost. Both incidents occurred in June.

In these cases, both organisations came forward of their own accord. In some American states such as California, revealing breaches such as this is mandatory The system in the UK is currently voluntary although a recent poll published by LogRhythm showed that 80 percent of people wanted more stringent laws regarding data breaches.

Out of the 5000 people surveyed, 31 percent even suggested that company directors should be subject to criminal proceedings. Many have welcomed the commissioner’s step towards protecting sensitive data. The Financial Times referred to Graham as a “privacy watchdog chief with a bite”, and noted that the announcement follows criticism of the ICO’s handing of the Google Street View data collection controversy.

Perhaps the ICO is trying to prove it is a watchdog with teeth.

Article: Google maps give direction

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

I wrote this article after attending a conference on geographical information systems. It was also blogged about on the Guardian’s Free our Data campaign site.

Councils bypass Ordnance Survey for Google Maps
The Guardian, Thursday May 31, 2007
Local authorities are increasingly using the free application from the search giant on their websites

Navigating your way around a local authority’s websites can be a painful experience, especially if it involves maps. Perhaps, for example, you are looking for a school on an online map that is generated by survey data from Ordnance Survey. This can be particularly frustrating, with data fields going missing as you zoom in, maps updating slowly and overly complicated interfaces.

If that’s your impression, it’s backed up by a survey carried out for the Society of Information Technology Management. The society tested local authority websites against four key indicators: only 56% of councils had clickable maps; just 35% offered a way to find schools on a map. And only 13% offered a help facility.

But while maps and geographical information are vital to local authorities and their websites, the prices and licensing policies of Ordnance Survey, the government’s mapping agency, mean that some councils have decided to bypass OS and use free maps from Google to create mashups of information for their websites.

Traditional geographical information systems provide “complex data, complex systems”, said Dane Wright, IT service manager at Brent council in north London, at the annual conference of GIS in the Public Sector earlier this month. Google Maps, by contrast, provides “complex data, simple systems”.

Primary interface

Wright told the conference: “What we are doing is moving to Google Maps as the primary interface for casual use by public users. This will leave the GIS system for more specialist users. The reason for doing this is to provide a better user experience – familiar interface, easy to use, integrated aerial imagery, attractive, no need for training or large manuals.”
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