Notes on DEAct and Behavioural advertising: 34,000 people could have their details handed over to the media industry

There’s a lot being written about the Digital Economy Act and Ofcom’s latest draft proposal – I’m not sure I have much to add to the debate except on the volume of people affected and how that might work out. Firstly, it appears based on figures for the userbase I have access to that in 2009, around 1 in 500 DSL lines would have ended up on the “Copyright Infringers List”. It’s mostly a home user issue, rather than businesss, so if we restrict it to households the figure appears to be closer to 1 in 300. That’s a surprisingly large number and means that, based on over 17 million broadband lines in the UK, thirty four thousand people could have their details handed over to the media industry under this proposal, even if the companies don’t increase their rate of reporting to ISPs. (Most ISPs at the moment either ignore the reports or just pass them on to the end user without taking any further action) I’m not sure if this figure just demonstrates the scale of the problem in terms of copyright infringment or in terms of the way the act is written but whatever happens, bulk justice is not justice. I’ve had the misfortune of having to defend something very trivial in comparison, a parking ticket, that due to apparent negligence by Islington Parking Services had ended up going to county court via “Bulk Processing” even though it had been appealed, several times by recorded delivery. All that’s required for such “bulk” justice is the applicant to say “We issued this person with X” and the court issues an order against someone, without the court ever sending anything to the defendant.

Are we to adopt a similar system for copyright bulk justice? 35,000 people suddenly finding they’re receiving court orders against them without ever having necessarily had anything before hand because someone messed up? Remember, these are the same people who accused a printer of online copyright infringement so we can’t trust they’re going to exercise due diligence.

Related to that last item about the printer, there’s also one particularly worrying statement in the Ofcom code“This list is based on the information currently produced by agents working on behalf of Copyright Owners. We believe that this matches the standard of evidence required by the courts in relation to civil proceedings by Copyright Owners for copyright infringement.” (Page 18) Either Ofcom have this wrong or the courts really need to insist on better “evidence” because we already know their current methods are far from robust, even if we assume that the bill payer is the infringer when they do get it right, when in fact it’s pretty unlikely.

But while that is going on there’s something else in the background that worries me, specifically related to behavoural advertising. The Office of Fair Trading have been looking into this and in a recent report (Warning: Large PDF) have suggested labeling adverts created based on users past behaviour. This is despite the fact that parlimentary committees have said it should only be used when a user explicitly consents. To my mind, labelling an advert as behaviorally-based is worse than not labelling it and this isn’t just Google-style adwords, showing adverts targeted to the site you’re on. These adverts follow you round after you’re left the site, even if you clear the browser history. Consider that many of the most vulnerable members of society rely on the internet to get help and information and aren’t likely to have the time or experience to research the issue. What happens if someone is living in an oppressive household – lets take a non-controversial example of someone who is the victim of domestic violence – and after having used the internet to research adverts start popping up for divorce lawyers. At the moment there is a degree of plausable deniability, after all I keep getting Google Adverts from the “Ad Council” even though I do not live in the US and have no interest in the public-service issues they’re pushing. Put a nice little icon in the corner of the adverts that lets someone know why that advert popped up and that it’s based on where you’ve just been and you’re potentially creating a lot of trouble for vulnerable people.

Speaking at the conference: Update

I ran across some numbers on the BBC and felt I should probably post them as they related to my last post.

They give counts rather than percentages and cover openly gay male MPs (Lesbians aren’t mentioned, I have theories as to why but that’s another topic) and work out at: (Quoting to 1 significant figure, as the numbers are low enough for it not to make much sense to quote more)

Of 306 Conservative MPs, 258 are Male. 10 are openly gay, which is 4%. (3.8% to 2 S.F.)
Of 258 Labour MPs, 177 are Male. 8 are openly gay, which is 4%. (4.5% to 2 S.F.)
Of 57 LibDem MPs, 50 are Male. 2 are openly gay that the BBC know of, which is 4%. (4.0% to 2 S.F.)

So it looks like parliament is pretty well balanced across the parties and reasonably close to representative of the population as a whole if government figures are accurate

Interestingly, the LibDems are only party that doesn’t produce stats on gay MPs. Not sure if that’s a privacy thing or just nobody ever got round to it? If the BBC missed someone that’s openly gay, we could be doing rather better than the other two parties. Conversely, it could be argued that the numbers are low enough any difference between the parties is just noise.

Speaking at the Conference

Anyone in the UK who has been following the news – and I suspect that’s a small number of people because if you’re not involved yourself, I don’t blame you if you’re sick to death of politics by now – will know there’s been a LibDem conference this weekend. I’ll point out the usual that’s been pointed out by many others before me now, which is that despite the best efforts of the press to portray the party as split over the deal it’s not. There is concern and trepidation about what might come to pass but we’ve got a good deal out of it and most people there recognised that.

Zoe O'Connell speaking at the Lib Dem's Special ConferenceBut the reason for my post is that I stood up to talk in an “intervention” slot. 30 people (Picked randomly from 110 who put their names down, so I was lucky) got to stand up to speak from the floor for 60 seconds. Those that have met me will know that I’m not great with social situations but for some reason, standing up in front of an audience of 2000 people that includes government ministers and the Deputy Prime Minister didn’t at the time seem like such a big deal. Despite the microphones and lights and cameras and being projected on a huge screen it’s oddly somehow more impersonal than knocking on the door of some stranger you’ll probably never see again and asking who they’re going to vote for. This is completely at odds with , who is supremely confident socially but thought standing up to talk was too much!

On to the reason I stood to talk. As with most people who stood up, it wasn’t to acclaim nor oppose the motion, but to make a point about policy that risked getting overlooked and in my case it was equality. Here’s what I said: (Emphasis is from my notes, so that I could emphasise the appropriate words when speaking)

Equality. It should not be a dirty word. It is a word we have heard here today when the press are not present, yet it does not appear in the coalition document. I do not have easy access to statistics on LGBT, ethnic and other power minorities being represented in the new parliament but certainly in terms of women, we are now third in equality behind the Conservatives.

It is unfortunate that much of the good effort in this area did not bear fruit on May 5th but against a possibly, in equality terms, dark background of a conservative-lead government, should we not lead from the front more in terms of public voice and policy rather than silently reinforcing a typically conservative and, as Lynne Featherstone said, “Male and Pale” cabinet and agenda.

Did it make a difference? I hope so, but sadly I don’t think people pay too much attention to the intervention speakers in general. You only get 60 seconds and you’re speaking from the floor, not the stage. This seems to make a difference in terms of how the audience view you, despite the fact that everyone looks as you on a huge screen in front of them rather than having to turn round to see you.

I’m not sure how I came across as I’m not used to public speaking and unfortunately it’s unlikely there’s any video. However, a couple of people did come up to me afterwards with positive comments particularly as I was one of the very few speakers who did not run over their 60 seconds and need to be cut short by the chair. We’d already had a DELGA representative propose an amendment to the motion reaffirm LGBT support plus Lynne Featherstone and the vice-chair of the Gender Equality group within the party speak on, unsurprisingly, gender equality in the parliamentary party.

What did strike me however was that I was the only speaker who pointed out that tackled equality as a whole and spoke for the fact we need to be more vocal publicly about it. The other speakers just mentioned their own area of concern and wanted to “reaffirm their commitment” to it rather than stating we need to, as politicans would have it, “get the message out there”. (Does the fact I spoke at a conference make me a politician now?)

I’d been offered the chance by Belinda Brooks-Gordon to be introduced to Lynne Featherstone after the conference but unfortunately there wasn’t much chance of finding people in the crowd. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to be meet to her soon as she could be a very interesting and useful person to know.