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EU Rules Facebook Can Be Forced to Remove Content Worldwide

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  • The EU’s highest court has ruled that if one EU-member country decides content posted on Facebook is illegal, Facebook can be forced to remove specific content worldwide.
  • Facebook and other critics argued the rule will violate freedom of expression laws in other countries because removing content that one country deems illegal might be protected as free speech in another country.
  • Some critics also claimed the rule will allow authoritarian leaders to justify censorship and stifling political dissent.

European Court of Justice Ruling

The European Union’s highest court ruled Thursday that Facebook can be ordered to remove specific content worldwide if one EU-member country finds it illegal.

In a statement, the European Court of Justice said that if the national court of one EU country decides a post on Facebook is illegal, Facebook will be required to remove all duplicates of that post: not just in that EU country, but everywhere in the world.

The ruling also says that in some cases, even posts that are similar to the post deemed illegal will also have to be removed.

The ECJ made the decision after Austrian politician Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek sued Facebook in Austrian courts demanding that the company remove a defamatory comment someone posted about her, as well as any “equivalent” comments disparaging her.

Reportedly, the post in question was made by a Facebook user why shared a link to a news article that called Glawischnig-Piesczek a “lousy traitor of the people,” a “corrupt oaf” and member of a “fascist party.”

Facebook at first had refused to remove the post, which in many countries would still be considered acceptable political speech. However, Austrian courts ruled that the post was intended to hurt her reputation, and the Austrian Supreme Court referred the case to the ECJ.

In the ECJ statement, the highest court did clarify that Facebook and other social media companies are not liable for illegal content posted on their platforms as long as they did not know it was illegal or removed it quickly.

Regardless, the ruling still comes as a massive blow and a huge change for Facebook and places much more responsibility on the tech giant to control its content.

Facebook’s Response

It should not come as a surprise that Facebook is not happy with the decision.

Before the high court’s decision, Facebook and others critical of the rule argued that allowing one country to force a platform to remove material globally limits free speech. Facebook also argued that the decision would most likely force them to use automated content filters. 

Some activists have claimed automated filters could cause legitimate posts to be taken down because the filters can not necessarily tell if a post is ironic or satirical or a meme⁠—a problem most grandparents also seem to have on Facebook.

Facebook condemned the ECJ ruling in a statement, where it argued that internet companies should not be responsible for monitoring and removing speech that might be illegal in one specific country.

“It undermines the long-standing principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country,” the statement said. “It also opens the door to obligations being imposed on internet companies to proactively monitor content and then interpret if it is ‘equivalent’ to content that has been found to be illegal.”

“In order to get this right national courts will have to set out very clear definitions on what ‘identical’ and ‘equivalent’ means in practice,” Facebook continued. “We hope the courts take a proportionate and measured approach, to avoid having a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Free Speech Debate

Facebook’s statement has also been echoed by some experts in the field, like Thomas Hughes, the executive director of the UK rights group Article 19, who told Reuters that the decision of one country to remove content illegal in its borders could lead to the removal of content that should be protected as free speech in another country.

“Compelling social media platforms like Facebook to automatically remove posts regardless of their context will infringe our right to free speech and restrict the information we see online,” Hughes said. 

“This would set a dangerous precedent where the courts of one country can control what internet users in another country can see. This could be open to abuse, particularly by regimes with weak human rights records.”

Touching on that point, Eline Chivot, an analyst at the Center for Data Innovation told the Financial Times that the ruling could open a “Pandora’s box” whereby the global removal of content deemed illegal in one country could give authoritarian governments and dictators more tools for censorship.

“Expanding content bans worldwide will undermine internet users’ right to access information and freedom of expression in other countries,” she said. “This precedent will embolden other countries, including those with little respect for free speech, to make similar demands.”

EU’s Role in Tech Company Regulation

Ben Wagner, the director of the Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab at Vienna University, also argued that decision brings up concerns about restricting political speech.

“We’re talking about a politician who is being insulted in a political context, that’s very different than a normal citizen,” he told The New York Times. “There needs to be a greater scope for freedom of opinion and expression.”

The possibility of stifling political speech is a common debate regarding the regulation of content on social media.

On Wednesday, Singapore enacted a “fake news” law that will basically let the government decide what is and is not fake news on social media, leading many to believe the law is simply a tool to limit free speech and suppress political dissent.

Discussions about the regulation of political speech are especially pertinent right now.

Just last week, Facebook announced that posts by politicians will be exempt from the platform’s rules and that they will not remove or label posts by politicians, even if they are disparaging or contains false information.

Now it seems like that will change.

It is also interesting because it speaks to a broader issue of global enforcement for these kinds of rules. As many have pointed out, the EU has increasingly set the standard for tougher regulation of social media and tech companies.

But creating consistent standards for enforcement and oversight has been challenging, especially when attempting to enforce a rule globally. 

At the end of September, the ECJ decided to limit the reach of a privacy law called “the right to be forgotten,” which lets European citizens request that personal data be removed from Google’s search results. 

The ECJ decided that Google could not be required to remove the links globally, but just in EU-member states. 

Before that decision, Google also claimed the law could be abused by authoritarian governments trying to cover up human rights abuses.

Facebook, however, should not expect the court’s rule to change, as the ECJ court’s decision cannot be appealed.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Forbes)

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The Boeing MAX 8 Scandal & Controversy Explained!

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When Boeing first introduced the 737 MAX 8, the new plane was supposed to help usher in a new generation of commercial aircraft. Then two MAX 8’s crashed within five months of each other, killing a total of 346 people.

Since then, the controversy around Boeing has kept growing and growing as numerous investigations revealed a number of highly questionable and even negligent business and regulatory practices that ultimately led to the crashes.

Even now, more than a year after the first crash, Boeing is still in the news and under the microscope as it struggles to keep up appearances.

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Facebook to Pay $550 Million to Settle Facial Recognition Suit

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  • Facebook agreed to pay $550 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in Illinois that claimed its “Tag Suggestions” feature illegally harvested facial data from millions of users in Illinois without their permission.
  • Facebook disclosed the settlement while also announcing it made $21 billion last quarter.
  • Some championed the settlement as a victory for consumer privacy rights.
  • Others argued that no matter how much Facebook pays in lawsuits and settlements, the company has continued to grow and has not fundamentally changed its business practices.

Facebook Announces Settlement

Facebook announced Wednesday that it had agreed to pay $550 million to settle a class-action lawsuit involving facial recognition technology.

The lawsuit was filed in Illinois in 2015 and claimed that Facebook’s “Tag Suggestions” feature violated the state’s 2008 Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

The “Tag Suggestion” tool uses facial recognition software to scan users’ faces and then suggest the names of other users who might be in the picture. 

The lawsuit alleged that Facebook used it to illegally harvest facial data from millions of users in Illinois without their permission or without telling them how the data was kept.

Illinois is one of three states that has its own biometric privacy laws, and BIPA is arguably the strongest of all three. 

Under BIPA, companies that collect biometric data, which includes data from finger, face, and iris scans, must get prior consent from consumers and detail how the data will be used and how long the company will keep it. BIPA also allows private citizens to sue.

The lawsuit accused Facebook of failing to comply with those restrictions. 

Facebook, for its part, argued that the people who it collected data from without consent could not prove that they experienced any concrete harm, like financial losses. However, the company still ultimately decided to settle.

Once the federal judge overseeing the case approves the settlement, people eligible to claim money are expected to receive a couple hundred dollars.

Other Settlements & Controversies

Many privacy experts and advocates applauded the settlement and said it was a victory for consumer privacy rights.

But others argued that the settlement does not really change anything, because it is not a big deal for Facebook. While $550 million might seem like a lot, for Facebook, its basically pocket change.

Even the way Facebook announced the settlement seemed to emphasize that point. The tech giant disclosed the settlement while announcing its financial results for 2019, reporting that revenue rose 25% to $21 billion in the last quarter alone.

Not only did that indicate how minor the Illinois settlement was for the company financially, it also showcased their incredible ability to weather scandals and controversy.

Over the last few years, Facebook has received a lot of backlash, largely over privacy concerns and the spread of misinformation on the platform.

Most recently Facebook has been under fire for its decision to essentially let politicians lie in political ads.

In July, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Facebook $5 billion over privacy violations— the largest fine the FTC has ever imposed on a tech company by far.

Facebook’s Continued Growth

But even in the face of massive financial costs and prominent controversies, Facebook still continues to grow.

In an article published by Axios, writer Sara Fischer described Facebook’s ability for continued growth despite those obstacles.

“Facebook closed out the second decade of the millennium stronger than ever,” she wrote. “Facebook’s continued ability to post double-digit revenue growth every year speaks to how well it has been able to innovate and adapt, even in the face of regulatory headwinds and increased competition.”

Fischer gave the example of North America and Europe where Facebook has gotten more money per user each year despite the fact that its user growth in those regions has stayed relatively stagnant.

Source: Axios

She also mentioned the Illinois case, FTC fine, and other growing concerns over privacy and advertizing Facebook has warned its investors about.

“So far these fines have proven moot in getting the tech giant to fundamentally change its business, which continues to grow substantially,” she said.

While Facebook did agree to be more transparent about how it uses facial recognition technology as part of the FTC settlement, many are skeptical that the Illinois case will bring about any substantive change.

However, in an investor call following the release of Facebook’s earnings report Wednesday, CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg said that he wanted to be more transparent about the company’s values.

“One critique of our approach for much of the last decade is that because we wanted to be liked, we didn’t want to communicate our views as clearly, because we worried about offending people,” he said.

“Our goal for the next decade isn’t to be liked, but understood. In order to be trusted, people need to know what we stand for.”

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Verge) (The New York Times)

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New 2020 Emoji Include Transgender Flag and More Gender-Inclusive Options

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  • Over 100 new emoji were revealed on Wednesday, set to be released sometime in 2020.
  • The new additions will consist of 62 brand-new emoji as well as 55 gender and skin-tone variants. 
  • The transgender flag, a woman in a tuxedo, and a more gender-inclusive alternative to Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus will be among the new options.
  • Other emoji introduced include boba tea, a dodo bird, a smiley face with a tear, and an anatomical heart.

Fresh Faces

More than 100 new emoji will be available for mobile phone users this year, providing both fun new icons as well as more inclusive and diverse options.

The list was unveiled on Wednesday by the Unicode Consortium, an organization devoted to developing and maintaining software internalization standards and data.

There will be 62 brand-new emoji as well as 55 gender and skin-tone variants, reflecting a push toward a more inclusive collection. Among the new icons will be the transgender symbol as well as the transgender pride flag, an idea proposed by advocates and artists with the help of Google and Microsoft.  

Along this same vein, more gender-inclusive options will be seen with this new wave. Both a woman and a non-binary figure in a tuxedo will soon be available, as well as a man and a non-binary figure in a wedding veil. 

To complement the already-existing Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus options, a more gender-inclusive alternative will be included as well — under the name of Mx. Claus. 

There will also be new emoji depicting parents feeding a baby. 

Other new emoji include a smiley face with a tear, two figures hugging, boba tea, and an anatomical heart. The animal section is getting a boost too, as a beaver, a seal, a polar bear, and even a dodo bird will be introduced. 

The release date of the new emoji depends on each individual vendor, but Unicode Consortium noted that typically the new icons are rolled out in the fall.

Praise for New Emoji

After the new additions were revealed, many took to Twitter to express their joy about the more inclusive options.

“Incredible power in the new 2020 emojis,” one person wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (USA Today) (CBS)

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