Electric Cars Allowed in Bus Lanes (Pilot)

Cambridgeshire County Council’s pilot scheme to allow electric vehicles to use bus lanes from December 2020 has caused safety concerns among cyclists, who also use the bus lanes.

December Decision

Under an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO), a pilot scheme running from 14 December 2020 until 13 June 2021 (with the option to extend up to 18 months), Cambridgeshire County Council is allowing electric vehicle drivers to use the bus lane on the Elizabeth Way Bridge in Cambridge. Prior to the new ETRO, the bus lane in that area could also be used by taxis and cyclists but the new ETRO in December also gave the go-ahead for motorcycles and fully electric vehicles to use the bus lane.

Why?

In its published “Statement of Reasons”, Cambridgeshire County Council says of its scheme to allow (monitored) fully electric vehicle use in the bus lane “The Government has legislated to ban the purchase of petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035 and is encouraging drivers to purchase ZEVs. By allowing them to use bus lanes, it is hoped that this will provide an additional incentive for people to buy ZEVs”.

As regards the reason for allowing motorcycles to also use the lane as part of the experimental order, the council says “Motorcycles are more fuel-efficient and use less road space than cars, so the Council wishes to encourage greater use of them. Allowing motorcycles to use bus lanes is an additional incentive for people to purchase and use powered two-wheelers in preference to private cars”.

Cambridgeshire County Council has given anyone wishing to object to the order being made permanent or to make any other representation regarding the scheme has 6 months to do so in writing.

Cyclists Concerned

Cyclists have voiced concern over the council’s pilot scheme.  For example, CAM Cycle, a Cambridgeshire cycling campaign group says that the move “should be extremely alarming to anyone who cares about cycling safety and public transport” and that “Electric cars are still cars. They take up a lot of space on the road, may endanger people who are cycling and will surely congest a facility that is meant to help public transport function more smoothly”.  The group is also concerned that this move will set a precedent that could destroy the idea of public transport priority as well as making life more difficult and dangerous for cyclists.

CAM also stressed that instead of choosing a temporary pop-up cycleway in one of the lanes on the other side of the Elizabeth Way bridge to help people during the pandemic, the council instead chose “a backward form road spacer reallocation” by instead opting for an ETRO that gives more space for cars at the expense of buses and people cycling.

Motorcyclists Delighted

The news that motorcycles, as well as electric vehicles, have been given the go-ahead to use the bus lane on the same bridge in Cambridge on the grounds that “motorcycles are more fuel-efficient and use less road space than cars, so the Council wishes to encourage greater use of them” has been met with delight by the local Motorcycle Action Group (MAG) members. The County Council also stressed the benefit of being able to “reduce the likelihood of motorcyclists weaving between lanes of slow-moving traffic to avoid queues”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There is now a general global agreement that climate change is real and that greenhouse gasses need to be drastically reduced.  There are obvious congestion problems in many developed countries on the roads, as well as environmental targets to meet by governments. Electric vehicles, therefore, which have now been fully committed to by the big car manufacturers provide an important way to maintain mobility and drastically reduce emissions. The UK is aiming for only fully electric vehicles being sold after 2035 and so, from now on, more temporary schemes and ideas like the one in Cambridge are likely to appear on UK roads as a way of encouraging a switch to electric and a move to at least more fuel and space-efficient options like motorcycles on UK roads.  For cyclists, however, who are already using a green (and space-saving) way to travel, it is understandable that the threat of silent electric vehicles or motorcycles hitting them is causing concern and annoyance.  At the moment with lockdown restrictions in place, the full impact on the roads (and on the accident rate with cyclists) may not be possible to measure, but when lockdown restrictions have been lifted, the consequences of schemes like these may become clearer.

Featured Article – Data About You Held By UK Government

In this article, we look at not just the story of how a staggering 400,000 police records were accidentally deleted but also at the wider picture of what information is held about us UK citizens by the authorities, and what powers we have over that data.

Deleted

After first being reported in the Times newspaper, momentum has grown around the story of how it appears that due to “human error”, according to Home Secretary Priti Patel, some 400,000 police records have been deleted from the Police National Computer (PNC) database.  When the story first broke, it was reported on some UK TV news broadcasts that 150,000 records had been deleted and that these were for people where no further action was needed on their cases anyway.

For example, policing minister Kit Malthouse has been widely quoted as saying that “the affected records apply to cases where individuals were arrested and then released with no further action, and we are working to recover the affected records as a priority”.  Mr Malthouse has also said, however, that he is not entirely sure yet whether the loss of data of these police records could have an operational impact on the work of the police.

Types of Records

The types of records believed to have been deleted include 200,000+ offence records,175,000 arrest records, and 15,000 person records, as well as 26,000 DNA records, 30,000 fingerprint records, and 600 ‘subject’ records.

Human Error?

It has been reported that the human error that is being blamed for the mass deletion relates to mistakes made on a routine “weeding” session of surplus data and the running of “defective code”.

What Now?

Despite the deletions, it is understood that work is underway to write a new code to somehow restore the lost data.

Public Safety

Clearly, losing the records of potential or known criminals could jeopardise investigations and adversely affect UK justice and public safety as well as letting down victims of crime and their families.

Data Security

In addition to being a threat to public safety, the mishandling or loss of personal data is normally a matter for data security laws. In this case, the data has been deleted and so isn’t in danger of affecting the privacy of security of data subjects. That said, there is an important distinction to make between data handled by businesses and by law enforcement, and to clarify what the data law situation is following Brexit.

The introduction of GDPR saw UK businesses having to upgrade their understanding of (and dealing with) personal data. Since Brexit, the DPA 2018, which already enacts GDPR’s requirements in UK law has been amended by and merged with the DPPEC (Data Protection, Privacy and Electronic Communications (Amendments etc) (EU Exit)) Regulations 2019 amends the DPA 2018. The new amended and merged post-Brexit data laws in the UK are now known as ‘the UK GDPR’.

Unlike data held and processed by UK businesses however, data held by law enforcement and for the purposes of national security is (according to the ICO) not covered by GDPR (i.e. UK GDPR), which is similar to being exempt. Police data, used for the purpose of investigating a crime, for example, is subject to the rules in Part 3 of the Data Protection Act 2018.

Exemptions and Your Data Rights

There is also an exemption in GDPR for the processing of personal data for the prevention and detection of crime.  According to the ICO, if there had been a data breach from the police, the exemption under GDPR would mean that the police would not have to notify individuals of a personal data breach if that data had been processed as part of crime prevention and detection.  In essence, this appears to suggest that if your data is stolen from a police computer, you don’t have the same rights as if it was stolen from a business computer (i.e. you have lost some of your data protection rights).

What Kind of Data is Stored Where?

This case has triggered questions about the kind of data that is stored about UK citizens by the police and other authorities, as well as where and how that data is stored.

Police ‘data’ could refer to criminal convictions, cautions warnings, and reprimands, but also includes biometric data such as fingerprints and photos, CCTV footage (your image is your personal data), mobile phone messages, texts, emails, other written documents and more.

Police data can be stored by the local police force in your area as well as one of many national databases including, as in this case, the Police National Computer (PNC) or the National DNA Database (NDNAD), National Fingerprints Database (IDENT1), Custody Suite Imaging System (CSIS), and more databases besides.

For How Long?

According to the UK’s College of Policing, information about how long your data can or should be kept by the police is guided by a principle rather than a hard and fast rule, although a policy setting standard retention period should be set “wherever possible”.  The “Fifth principle” of data storage limitation says that for law enforcement and general processing personal data should not be retained for longer than it is needed, and police need to be able to justify how long personal data is retained for, depending on the purposes for holding that information.  This principle acknowledges that individuals have a right to erasure if that information is no longer needed although it also states that “personal data can be kept for longer if the police are only keeping it for public interest archiving, scientific or historical research, or statistical purposes”.

For Biometric Data (i.e. fingerprints and DNA) in most cases, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 amends to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) to allow police in England and Wales to keep a person’s biometric information indefinitely. 

Criminal Records Check

Employers can request a basic, standard, or enhanced AccessNI check from the police records which discloses different types of information about a person’s criminal record history.  Basic and standard checks can take about 10 days whereas an enhanced check can take about 3 weeks.  Convictions for certain crimes will appear on these checks but some cautions, fines, offences and spent convictions won’t appear.

The different levels of checks are:

Basic – for details of all convictions considered to be unspent.

Standard – containing details of all spent and unspent convictions, informed warnings, cautions and diversionary youth conferences.

Enhanced – contains the same information as a standard check and police records held locally.  This type of check is usually required for work with children and vulnerable adults, the check may include information held by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

Requesting Your Data To Be Removed From Police Records

There are some circumstances under which a persons’ data, including biometric data in some cases, can be removed from police records on request. These circumstances are detailed here: https://www.acro.police.uk/Services/Record-deletion and guidance about the process is given here: https://www.acro.police.uk/ACRO/media/ACRO-Library/Deletion-of-Records-from-National-Police-Systems-(Guidance)-v2-1-April-2020.pdf.

Freedom of Information Request

In addition to much of the work of the police being kept secret for obvious reasons, much of the work of the UK government is also subject to laws relating to (national) security and privacy, although there is a wish to allow transparency where possible and where risks are minimised. The government actively publishes a lot of information and engages with the media as part of this transparency process.

Sometimes there are situations where individuals and organisations would like to find out more from the government (or the police) than what has been published or made freely available.  As the Institute for Government says, “Freedom of information, parliamentary questions and ministerial correspondence are important mechanisms through which Parliament and the public can get information out of government”.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows members of the public and press to submit Freedom of Information requests (FOI).  If certain conditions are met, public authorities are then required under this act to release any information they hold relating to the request.  The Freedom of Information Act applies to government departments and the executive agencies and public bodies they sponsor, parliament, the armed forces, devolved administrations, local authorities, the NHS, schools, universities, and police forces.

Submitting a Freedom of Information Request

Anyone can submit a Freedom of Information request (FOI) and there are no restrictions on nationality, residency status or age. A request must ideally be made in writing (or verbally if writing is really not possible) and be sent directly to the relevant organisation, stating clearly what information is being requested, providing the requester’s real name with a valid address (postal or email) to where the reply can be sent.

If the recipient (e.g. a government department) decides that the request is resolvable, it may choose to either provide all or just some of the information that has been requested and it may decide to withhold some or all the information that has been requested. 

Numbers

Government departments usually receive up to 8,000 Freedom of Information requests every quarter.  In Q2 of 2020, for example, 6770 requests were received by the UK government.  Only 4956 of these were deemed to be resolvable and 1884 of these resolvable requests were withheld in full.

Guidance on submitting a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/make-a-freedom-of-information-request

Looking Ahead

At the time of writing this article, the matter of the deleted 400,000 police records is still ongoing and information about the incident is still being gathered.  At the same time, questions are currently being asked about matters of responsibility and when the Home Secretary is going to be made available to answer questions about the incident.

The implications of this mass deletion of offence, arrest, person, fingerprint, and DNA records could be that the solving of other crimes committed by known offenders may not be possible because the data is no longer available to cross-reference.  The loss may also already be having an immediate impact on fighting crime as data from the Police National Computer (PNC) is used in real-time checks.  The best-case scenario now is, of course, that the data can be restored and that procedures are changed to make sure that the same error can’t happen again.  If the data cannot be restored this could be a major blow to law and order which could adversely affect individuals, communities, and businesses, and represents a frustrating waste of valuable time, effort, and police resources in gathering the data in the first place.

Signal Crashes Due To Millions of Sign-Ups

With more than 30 million people joining the non-profit, end-to-end encrypted communications app ‘Signal’ in just a few days, users of the app have (understandably) been experiencing a few technical issues.

Mass Sign-Ups

The announcement that WhatsApp would be changing its privacy policy and terms to force users (outside Europe) to share their data with WhatsApp’s parent company Facebook, coupled with recommendations by Elon Musk and Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey of the Signal app as a worthy alternative led to Signal’s platform being swamped with sign-ups. 

From 10 Million to 40+ Million Users

Last week, Signal’s user base soared from a respectable 10 million to a massive 40 million-plus, thereby immediately catapulting it to the no.1 social networking app spot in Apple’s App Store.

Issues

It appears that the mass exodus caused a need for greater server capacity which resulted in Signal users experiencing technical issues which included:

– Delays in sending verification codes for new-user sign-ups.

– Users seeing errors in their chats.

– The app has stopped working altogether for short periods of time.

Capacity

The huge numbers of people joining and trying to sign-up to (and use) the app in a very short period meant that Signal was short of server capacity which is likely to explain many of the technical issues. For example, Signal said on its Twitter feed on Friday that “We have been adding new servers and extra capacity at a record pace every single day this week nonstop, but today exceeded even our most optimistic projections”.

Back on Sunday

On Sunday, Signal was restored after it had gone down altogether, and posted a famous clip from the film Rocky (where the boxer reaches the top of the steps and celebrates) saying “Signal is back! Like an underdog going through a training montage, we’ve learned a lot since yesterday — and we did it together. Thanks to the millions of new Signal users around the world for your patience. Your capacity for understanding inspired us while we expanded capacity”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

WhatsApp’s announcement that users would be soon given an ultimatum (share your information with Facebook or leave) coupled with the Signal recommendation from two tech big-hitters seems to have been enough to cause WhatsApp users to jump ship more quickly and in larger numbers than maybe anyone expected.  WhatsApp may have 2 billion users worldwide but 40 million+ is a lot of users to lose in just a few days. It may be that people working remotely (from home) during the pandemic made the message about WhatsApp get noticed and people take action more quickly and in larger numbers, and it may be that the closing of apps like Parler could have contributed at least some new users to Signal. It also appears, however, that people clearly value their data privacy and like the thought of having one popular end-to-end encrypted app for business and personal use. It may also be the case that Facebook is still suffering from a lack of trust in the marketplace left over from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and that people are hearing, seeing, and experiencing so many messages, rules, intervention, and changes from their governments at this time that having a new secure app of some kind, especially from a relatively unknown brand (not one of the big tech big brothers) is even more attractive. Digital transformation and the reliance on technology and apps in recent times may also have led to a greater willingness to (and less fear of) switching between alternative platforms and other tech services.  The massive switch to Signal will fuel its growth even more quickly as one of the attractions of using a new communications app is knowing that your other contacts are also using it.

PC Sales Get Biggest Boost in 10 Years From Remote Working

Global tech market analysts Canalys have reported that the worldwide PC market has received its biggest sales boost in 10 years as remote working fuels the ongoing digital transformation.

Highest Full-Year Growth Since 2010

Canalys reported on 11 January that the global PC market ended 2020 on a high with 25 per cent sales growth in Q4 of desktops, notebooks and workstations reaching 90.3 million units, and that total PC shipments in 2020 grew 11 per cent to reach 297.0 million units.  Canalys reports that this is the highest full-year growth since 2010 and the highest shipment volume since 2014.

Lenovo Top

Lenovo tops the Q4 sales market with 23.1 million units and year-on-year growth of 29 per cent, followed by HP in second place with 19.1 million units shipped, Dell in third place with 50.3 million units shipped (up 27 per cent), Apple in fourth place (22.6 million devices shipped) and Acer in fifth place, shipping 20.0 million devices.

Canalys reports that just these top 5 vendors accounted for 78.5 per cent of PC shipments in 2020.

Reason

Most tech commentators agree that the pandemic has revived what was a declining PC market.  Back in November, for example, International Data Corporation (IDC) research indicated that shipments of EMEA traditional PCs (desktops, notebooks, and workstations) would total 82.1 million in 2020, a 12.7 per cent year-on-year growth due to the increased demand caused by the need for people to work at home during the pandemic.

Digital Transformation

A survey by Studio Graphene in September 2020 showed that the need to quickly shift staff to working from home because of the lockdown appeared to be a driver and an accelerator of digital transformation for businesses.  The survey showed that nearly half (46 per cent) of business leaders said that said Covid-19 had driven the most pronounced digital transformation that their businesses had experienced.

This Year

Even though the pandemic has caused some supply chain issues, there have been innovations on chipsets and the demand for devices has continued to remain strong into 2021, as it is expected to do for at least the first quarter. Some commentators have noted how the shift by many businesses to an indefinite remote working environment, coupled with factors like the need to educate children at home, look like favouring more mobile than stationary devices, going forward.  That said, and as the sales figures show, PCs have been at the heart of a very large global digital transformation and as Rushabh Doshi, Canalys Research Director says, “the PC industry caters to a broader range of customers that bring with them new behaviours and use cases”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Prior to the pandemic, PC sales were in decline but the need for people to work from home has provided a massive boost to PC sales.  As the second peak has been even worse than the first and with more infectious new strains emerging, this shift to remote working has meant that PC businesses and their supply chains have thrived and struggled to meet demand.  Many business customers have undergone an accelerated digital transformation, have put technology at the heart of their operations and have made changes to their whole businesses where possible that could see a more permanent shift to a remote workforce using PCs and other devices, thereby ensuring that the curve in PC sales does not dip for some time yet.

Tech Tip – Stop Skype From Opening Automatically

If you would like to stop Skype from opening and appearing automatically, every time you log into or start-up Windows 10, here’s how:

– Go to ‘Settings’ (type ‘Settings’ in the taskbar and select it).

– Click on ‘Apps’.

– On the ‘Apps and Features’ page, left-hand side, click on ‘Startup’.

– Switch the Skype toggle to ‘Off’.

To also stop Skype from carrying out tasks when you have not asked it to, go back to the main Settings page and:

– Click on ‘Privacy’.

– Left-hand side, scroll down and click on ‘Background apps.

– Find Skype and click the toggle to ‘Off’. 

WhatsApp To Share Users’ Personal Info

In a change to WhatsApp’s privacy policy from next month, users outside of Europe will have to agree to share their personal information with WhatsApp’s owner Facebook or leave the app.

Outside Europe

From February 8, 2021, a compulsory aspect of continuing to use WhatsApp outside the EU and EEA will be to agree to share personal information with the app’s owner Facebook.  An in-app notice is informing WhatsApp users of the terms of service and privacy policy changes, which are an extension of changes announced in July last year and are the result of discussions with the Irish Data Protection Commission and other Data Protection Authorities in Europe.

Even though the UK has left the EU, it is understood that the need to agree to the new changes will not apply to users in the EU, EEA, and post-Brexit UK because WhatsApp does not share European region user data with Facebook to improve its products or advertisements.

What?

The kind of information that could be shared with Facebook includes phone numbers and other registration information, IP address, battery level, connection information, language and time zone and identifiers of other Facebook products.

Why?

The change is in line with Facebook’s current strategy of tightening up on data security in the light of the damage done to user confidence after the Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal and with trying to integrate aspects of its many products e.g., in November, Facebook added self-destruct messages to WhatsApp as a way of integrating and improving the interoperability of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger.  This latest change will also mean that user data can be shared with businesses using Facebook to store their WhatsApp messages.

Agree or Delete

If users do not agree to the new terms and policy, they will have to use the in-app feature (Help Centre) to delete their account. Just deleting the app itself and not using the in-app feature to do so may not stop WhatsApp from keeping a user’s data.

Apple

Apple recently asked iOS app makers to list what information they collect from users, and although WhatsApp famously offers end-to-end encryption, it has faced criticism recently about how much and what type of user data it reserves the right to collect.

Alternatives

The news of WhatsApp’s privacy policy and terms changes prompted Elon Musk to use Twitter to recommend that users could switch to Signal as an alternative. Signal is a cross-platform encrypted messaging service, and Elon Musk’s suggestion, which was re-tweeted by Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey appears to have boosted Signal’s position to the top of app stores around the world, including the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store in some countries.

What Does This Man For Your Business?

Although WhatsApp has played down the implications and extent of the change to its policy and terms, and WhatsApp has been sharing user information and metadata with Facebook anyway since 2016, the ‘agree or be deleted’ aspect of this change plus privacy worries may cause some business users outside of Europe to decide to switch.  Elon Musk’s intervention and influence may make switching more likely for some, which looks set to be good news for Signal which is already being overwhelmed with sign-ups.  That said, there 2 billion + WhatsApp users, many of whom are likely to quickly agree to the change and stick with an app with which they are familiar.  WhatsApp is trying to keep improving its features to retain users, especially business users, and looks likely to be introducing voice and video calling to its WhatsApp Web desktop version this year which will, no doubt, appeal to many business users who are spending more time working from home on the desktop.

Trump Banned on Social Media

Last week, following the storming of Washington DC’s Capitol building, US President Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have led to some questions about the legal status and regulation of social media companies.

Twitter – Permanently Suspended

Twitter has been US President Trump’s chosen means of regular and instant, direct communication with the public, to bypass the media, and this has been one thing that has set his presidency apart from previous ones.

Twitter states in its rules relating to world leaders that “we assess reported Tweets from world leaders against the Twitter Rules, which are designed to ensure people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely”. Twitter said the permanent suspension of President Trump’s account happened after it had made clear “going back years” that world leader’s accounts were not above the rules and could not be used to incite violence.  Following President Trump’s 12-hour suspension on Wednesday, Twitter’s warning that any further breaches of its rules would result in a ban, Twitter examining President Trump’s tweets in the context of last Wednesday’s events, and following 2 further offending Tweets on Friday, Twitter stated that his account was suspended (permanently) due to “risk of further incitement of violence”.

Calls for Twitter to ban/suspend President Trump have been made over many years as highlighted by Michelle Obama’s tweet last Thursday which accused tech giants of having enabled his “monstrous” behaviour.

Facebook and Instagram

Last Thursday, following the events in Washington, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg banned President Donald Trump indefinitely from Facebook’s platform, and from Instagram.  On his own Facebook account, in addition to pointing out that Facebook had removed or labelled some of the President’s content over the past few years, Mr Zuckerberg stressed the importance of a peaceful period leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration, and said of President Trump “we are extending the block we have placed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts indefinitely and for at least the next two weeks until the peaceful transition of power is complete”.

Parler App Suspended and Removed

The shocking events in Washington have also led to the Parler ‘free speech’ app, reported to be popular among supporters of US President Donald Trump and right-wing conservatives, being dropped by Google Play, Amazon’s AWS hosting service and the Apple app store.  This has left the app offline and facing a very uncertain future as Parler’s CEO John Matze cited the need by big tech companies to “kill competition in the marketplace” and a war on “free speech” as the real reasons for the dropping of the app. Some users had been attracted to the app after being censored/suspended after expressing certain views on other platforms e.g., Facebook and Twitter, and there were rumours that President Trump planned to switch to Parler following his Twitter account being suspended.

Questions Over Regulation

The banning/suspension of President Trump’s accounts by Facebook and Twitter have led many, including the UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock to question whether, since the big social media platforms appear to be taking editorial decisions, they should be treated as ‘publishers’ rather than platforms and, therefore, subject to the same regulations as other publishers.

Section 230

Also, there is now some speculation that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in the US, the law that gives tech companies the ability to decide how to moderate content on their own platforms and crucially, to shield their platforms from liability for what their users post could be under review when Joe Biden becomes the president.  Despite being a keen user of Twitter, President Trump has also been one of many political and other figures who for some time have supported a review of Section 230.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The action taken Facebook and Twitter following the events in Washington last week may have strengthened the argument of many long-time critics in terms of the need to look again at whether the social media giants should be classed as publishers and whether they should have the protection so far afforded by Section 230.  Facebook and Twitter may argue that it’s simply a case of clearly laid out rules being broken (see Twitter’s arguments about its approach to how World Leaders can use its accounts (refer : https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2019/worldleaders2019.html ). Although, with the new President Biden, some commentators are predicting that more pressure for change and possibly regulation may be heading Facebook and Twitter’s way.

The recent events in Washington are also an example of how brands can be very quickly and catastrophically damaged by bad behaviour linked to their owners/founders.  Signs that the Trump brand is likely to be damaged beyond repair and to become somewhat toxic to other businesses and organisations are already starting to show e.g., the PGA now looking to move the 2022 PGA Championship from President Trump’s Bedminster club.

Featured Article – Rules & Regs: Social Media

In this article, we look at the rules, policies and guidance around what types of content is –  and isn’t – allowed on social media websites.

Social Media Platforms

Social media platforms reflect many different views and motivations and can be used for harm (as well as good) e.g., cyberbullying, hate speech, grooming and more.  With social media forums positioning themselves as platforms rather than publishers, they are currently protected from the same regulation that publishers are subject to.  Given that there are now vast quantities of rules and guidelines introduced and published by the social media platforms themselves to show that they can work without the need for regulation or other intervention, this article focuses mainly on Facebook and Twitter as examples.

Safe Posting

Safe posting on platforms such as Facebook relies not just upon the user’s own views and behaviour but also on how the social media platforms are able to detect (mainly through algorithms, reports from users and some internal reviews), moderate, and act where posts which break the rules are found.  

Facebook – Community Standards

Facebook, for example, regards its social network as an online community and as such, issues guidance about the types of behaviour permitted or not permitted.  These rules/standards are listed in its ‘Community Standards’.  Facebook says that the goal of these standards is to “create a place for expression and give people a voice”.

Values Vs Expression

Facebook is keen to stress that it favours expression but when it does have to limit this expression, it does so because this expression is at odds with its published values for which are the preserving and protecting of authenticity, safety, privacy and dignity (rights).

Facebook justifies allowing some content that would appear to go against its Community Standards if it is deemed to serve a purpose for “public awareness” (in the public interest/newsworthy). An example of this could be a graphic depiction of war to show the consequences of war.

Challenges

Some of the challenges of moderating a social media platform were revealed in November 2020 when Facebook revealed (via its Community Standards Enforcement Report) that 22.1 million pieces of hate speech content had been found on Facebook and 6.5 million instances of hate speech had been found on its Instagram platform between July and September.  10 million instances of hate speech per month were recorded across Facebook and Instagram during those 3 months.

The same report detailed 13 million pieces of child nudity and sexual exploitation content, and more than a million items of suicide and self-injury being found across Facebook’s platforms in that period.

Facebook has also reported recently that it is making efforts to crack down upon misinformation relating to coronavirus, conspiracy theories, the Holocaust and QAnon (a far-right conspiracy theory).

In addition to guarding against racism, bullying, hate speech and more, as shown after the 2016 election, social media platforms also need to guard against state-sponsored political misinformation and influence.

Algorithms

Keeping up with policing a vast social media platform involves the use of complex algorithms designed to detect things like hate speech, racial slurs, bullying and more. Facebook, for example, is currently reported to be updating algorithms that detect hate speech and racism as part of its “worst of the world” project (WoW Project). This project is reported to be designed to make algorithms better at spotting abusive content aimed at people of colour, muslims, the LGBTQ community, and jews.

Subjects

Facebook has Community Standards rules and guidelines that are intended to protect its platform and users.  For example, these standards cover:

– Violence and criminal behaviour.  This covers preventing potential offline harm that may be related to content on Facebook, stopping organisations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on Facebook e.g., terrorists or human trafficking, stopping posts relating to coordinating harm and publicising crime, prohibiting attempts to buy and sell regulated goods e.g., drugs and firearms, and removing content relating to fraud and deception.

– Safety. This covers content related to child sexual exploitation, abuse and nudity, sexual exploitation of adults, bullying and harassment (with a distinction made between public figures and private individuals to allow for discussion – Facebook also has a Bullying Prevention Hub for teenagers, parents and educators), human exploitation and privacy violations and image privacy rights i.e. “remove content that shares, offers or solicits personally identifiable information or other private information that could lead to physical or financial harm, including financial, residential and medical information, as well as private information obtained from illegal sources.”

– Objectionable content. This relates to stopping ‘hate speech’ which Facebook defines as “a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity and serious disease or disability”. Facebook separates any such attacks on its platform into 3 tiers of severity.  Facebook lists how it approaches many issues relating to hate speech here https://about.fb.com/news/2017/06/hard-questions-hate-speech/ and quotes its own 2017 figure showing that it deleted “288,000 posts a month globally” relating to hate speech. 

– Integrity and authenticity. This relates to stopping fake accounts being created i.e., preventing impersonation and identity misrepresentation by removing accounts that are harmful to Facebook’s community.

Within this section, Facebook also regulates matters relating to dealing with spam, cyber-security i.e., not allowing attempts to gather sensitive user information through the abuse of the platform and products, inauthentic behaviour (people misrepresenting themselves, or using use fake accounts for dishonest purposes), false news i.e., not removing it altogether but reducing its distribution by showing it lower in the News Feed to preserve satire or opinion.

– Manipulated media – image, audio, or video (e.g. deepfakes).

– Memorialisation. When a Facebook user dies, friends and family can request that their account is memorialised, whereupon the word “Remembering” is added above the name on the person’s profile.

– Respecting intellectual property. This relates to Facebook users respecting other peoples’ copyrights, trademarks and other legal rights when posting on the platform.

– Content-related requests and decisions. This relates to requests for removal of accounts, additional protection of minors (e.g. removal of child abuse imagery) and decisions referred to Facebook’s Independent Oversight Board.

– Additional information. This relates to gathering information from ‘Stakeholders’ i.e., Facebook wanting to make policies based on feedback from community representatives and a broad spectrum of the people who use its service.

Reporting

Facebook offers fast ways for users to report posts and other users. For example, reporting a post involves clicking on the 3 dots (top right) and selecting “Find support or report post”.  Other ways of reporting are listed here: https://en-gb.facebook.com/help/reportlinks/

Twitter

Twitter, of course, has its own extensive rules and policies designed to “serve the public conversation” which are published online here https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/twitter-rules.

Twitter’s online guidance focuses very clearly on what is ‘not’ allowed on its platform. For example, Twitter is very clear that users must not:

– Threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.

– Threaten or promote terrorism or violent extremists.

– Engage in the targeted harassment of someone or incite other people to do so.

– Promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.

– Promote or encourage suicide or self-harm.

– Publish or post other people’s private information.

– Post or share intimate photos or videos of someone that were produced or distributed without their consent.

– Use Twitter’s services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes.

There are, of course, many other rules and guidelines.

Enforcement

Enforcement (i.e. action taken by Twitter if these rules and guidelines are broken/contravened) can be taken at Tweet level, direct-message level and account level.

Tweet-level enforcement includes limiting Tweet visibility, requiring Tweet removal, hiding a violating Tweet while awaiting its removal, or placing a tweet behind a notice explaining why it is a public exception (in the public interest).

Direct Message-level enforcement includes stopping conversations or placing a violating Direct Message behind a notice so that no one else in the group can see it again.

Account-level enforcement includes requiring media or profile edits, placing an account in read-only mode, verifying account ownership, and permanent suspension.

Trump – Permanent Suspension

One extremely high-profile, recent permanent suspension of a Twitter account was that of President Donald Trump following what he said in Tweets prior to his supporters descending on Washington, and after an initial temporary suspension.  Interestingly, Twitter has specific guidelines relating to how world leaders are permitted to use its platform.  See: https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2019/worldleaders2019.html

Non-Violating Content

Twitter can also act against non-violating content.  This can include:

– Placing a Tweet behind a notice (e.g. adult content or graphic violence).

– Withholding a Tweet or account in a country –  e.g. where laws in a specific country may apply to Tweets and/or Twitter account content.

Reporting / Complaining

There are already mechanisms built-in-to Twitter that enable users to report a Tweet, account, or conversation on the grounds that it is abusive.  This usually involves clicking on the 3 dots/more icon and clicking the appropriate reporting link from there. Information can be found here:  https://help.twitter.com/en/safety-and-security/report-abusive-behavior

Your Safety

Part of using social media safely involves taking steps to protect yourself in terms of privacy and data security.  Ways this can be achieved include:

– Not sharing personal information online, not ‘over-sharing’ and not sharing anything you wouldn’t want your family to see.

– Not sharing too many personal details that could be clearly linked with your identit (e.g. real date of birth, address details etc.)

– Checking privacy settings, reviewing what you make ‘public’, and being careful when sharing location information.

– Being very wary of accepting friend requests from complete strangers or requests from those you think you are already friends with (this could be a sign of a hacked account).

– Watching out for phishing scams i.e., following links that could direct you to malicious websites.

Safe Posting

Advice for safe posting on social media websites, therefore, could include:

– Be aware of the rules of the platform.

– Keep it “light and interesting”, without revealing too many personal details.

– Post within the rules of any group.

– Avoid getting involved in heated arguments with members of groups or other less familiar Facebook friends.

– Be careful not to use language or express views that could upset others.

– Report abuse/offensive posts and behaviour.

– If you have children who want to use social media, set guidelines about social media use, make sure they’re not posting personal details or photos of themselves and not accepting friends requests from people they don’t know or joining inappropriate groups, keep their profile private and check the privacy settings, and keep an open dialogue with them about their digital activities. 

Brexit – Temporary Data Adequacy Granted to the UK

Worries about the disruption of the flow of data and the effect of this on trade between the UK and EU countries with Brexit have been addressed by the granting of controversial, short-term data adequacy status to the UK.

What Is Data Adequacy?

For third countries, i.e. those outside the European Economic Area (EEA) of the EU (outside the DGPR zone), to be allowed to be granted cross-border data transfer without the need for further authorisation from a national supervisory authority or extra compliance burdens, the third country must prove that it has the right data protection measures and laws in place (i.e. those that are compatible with and are approved by the EU).  If these are in place, the third country can be granted data adequacy status which enables the free flow of data. Countries which have data adequacy status include Andorra, Argentina, Canada Faroe Islands, Guernsey, Israel, Isle of Man, Japan, Jersey, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Uruguay.  Data adequacy status is also granted to sectors of an economy, or international organisations as well as countries.

Prior to the final Brexit date, the UK had not yet been granted full data adequacy status, so a temporary measure was needed in the interim.

Temporary Data Adequacy Granted

Under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement concluded in December 2020, the EU granted temporary data adequacy status to the UK.  For data, The EU is, therefore, still currently treating the UK as part of the EU (not a third country), subject to certain conditions i.e., UK ministers cannot use Exit Regulations to determine or revoke data adequacy decisions.

For How Long?

TCA agreement on the data adequacy status means that it could apply for four to six months from 1 January 2021, or when data adequacy is fully granted. There is, however, some mutual consent between the EU and UK Partnership Council that could give further flexibility to this agreement.

Issues

Critics, such as Douwe Korff, professor of international law at London Metropolitan University, have argued, however, that there many reasons why the idea of the UK being granted this temporary third country status under EU law is unacceptable.  In short, Professor Korff argues that there are five good reasons why the UK being granted this kind of status are unacceptable in law, which are that:

1. This undermines EU data protection law as guaranteed by the EU Treaties, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the EU data protection instruments as interpreted by the Court of Justice of the EU.

2. The issue of data protection (including in respect of transfers of personal data) should not be addressed in a free trade agreement.

3. UK mass surveillance, which is directly relevant to the issues of data protection adequacy and data transfer, is not being considered.

4. The specified four to six months period can be extended by the EU and the UK at will.

5. It appears to be assumed that a positive adequacy decision on the UK will be issued within the “stipulated period” i.e., four to six months.  This is not a certainty.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Since the UK has recently departed from the EU and, therefore, was already up to date with EU data protection laws, it would have been unfair to immediately treat the UK as a third country, hence the temporary arrangement.  The secure free flow of data without the need to comply with additional regulations or to face costly, complex, or time-wasting hurdles are essential for UK businesses to maintain their competitiveness.  The fact that this temporary agreement is flexible (e.g. four to six months or longer by agreement) is a double-edged sword because although it is convenient now, it doesn’t provide certainty going forward.  It is also worrying that some legal expert commentators have spotted potential legal flaws in the existing arrangement which could represent another threat for UK businesses looking for consistency and more certainty.  If the UK, at any point chooses to let its data laws and practices fall below EU standard, this could lead to negative consequences for businesses dealing with EU countries, so it is in the UK’s interests now to make sure that the increasingly important matter of data and data security are areas where standards are continually monitored and improved.

Tech Tip – Optimising Storage

You can make sure that you are making the best use of the space on your computer by using the Storage Sense feature in Windows 10.  Here’s how:

When enabled, Storage Sense will automatically work in the background when your PC is getting low on space to free-up space by ridding your system of unwanted, unused files and content in e.g., the temporary files folder, recycle bin, and the download folder.  To put Storage Sense to work for you:

– Go to Settings.

– Select “System” and “Storage”.

– Set the toggle to “On”.

– To clean up unused files now, rather than when space is running low, click on the “Configure Storage Sense or run it now” link.