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UK privacy watchdog warns Meta over plan to keep denying Brits a choice over its ad tracking on August 2, 2023 at 4:42 pm

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The UK’s data protection watchdog has responded to Meta’s announcement yesterday that it intends to offer (other) Europeans a free choice to deny its tracking-for-ad-targeting but won’t be asking UK users for their consent to its surveillance — with some, er, pointed remarks.

Take it away Stephen Almond, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)’s executive director of regulatory risk, with this “ICO statement on Meta“:

As a digital regulator, we pay close attention to how companies operate internationally and how people’s rights are respected.

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We’re aware of Meta’s plans to seek consent from users for behavioural advertising in the EU, to the exclusion of the UK. This follows related findings by the Court of Justice of the European Union, Irish Data Protection Commission and Norwegian Data Protection Authority.

We are assessing what this means for information rights of people in the UK and considering an appropriate response.

Almond’s carefully worded remarks (“close attention”; “assessing what this means for information rights of people in the UK”, “considering an appropriate response”) suggest the regulator is not best pleased that the adtech giant formerly known as Facebook isn’t intending to give UK users the same level of respect for their data rights as people in the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland are, apparently, set to get soon.

Simply put it looks very awkward indeed for the ICO, and terrible news for UK users stuck in their post-Brexit not-so-sunny-uplands, that Meta has calculated it doesn’t have to offer the same degree of respect for their information as it must for Europeans living elsewhere in the region.

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Especially since Meta is doing this at a time when UK data protection law is still based on the pan-EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). (I mean, the UK government’s plan to water down the domestic privacy regime, via touted post-Brexit data “reforms”, hasn’t even made it onto the statute books yet! So, on paper, the privacy regime is the same as it was when the UK was in the EU.)

The specific issue the ICO is facing up to here is that defence of domestic data protection rules now falls squarely on its shoulders — with no protective shielding from the Court of Justice of the EU handing down the last word on how the law must be enforced. Since January 31 2020, when Brexit was fully enacted by the UK government, rulings made by the CJEU don’t apply in UK law. And, notably, Meta has only been moved to — finally — announce its intention to give Europeans a choice to deny its tracking-for-ads in the wake of a major CJEU ruling last month.

That also followed a significant January 2023 GDPR enforcement by EU data protection regulators. And an emergency intervention by Norway last month banning Meta’s behavioral ads locally over the legal basis issue — rather than waiting for Ireland, Meta’s lead regulator, to do it across the whole EU.

The cumulative impact of all these EU procedures has left the tech giant with no lawful basis left to claim under EU law for the data processing it carries out to “personalize” ads — except consent. So there is now momentum behind GDPR enforcement that is having a tangible impact on reforming privacy-hostile business models. But, sadly for people in the UK, it sits outside the EU’s implementation of GDPR. And so… no Meta consent intent for Brits!

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The bloc also hasn’t stood still on lawmaking since the UK upped and left. It’s actually been highly active on digital regulations. Including undertaking a major piece of ex ante competition reform, called the Digital Markets Act — which also appears to be giving Meta pause for thought on its ads data processing.

The company’s blog post update yesterday announcing its intention to switch to consent for ads data processing in the EU referenced “a number of evolving and emerging regulatory requirements in the region, notably how our lead data protection regulator in the EU, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), is now interpreting GDPR in light of recent legal rulings, as well as anticipating the entry into force of the Digital Markets Act (DMA)” as informing its decision.

And, well, the DMA doesn’t apply in the UK either. Just as the Irish DPC’s GDPR enforcement and the CJEU’s interpretation of how to apply the GDPR don’t.

Meta switched UK users’ data from falling under its Irish subsidiary to its US entity earlier this year, taking UK users firmly out of EU jurisdiction. That’s Brexit folks!  (A ‘Made in the UK’ digital ex ante competition reform also hasn’t made it into domestic law after facing delays as a result of political turmoil in the governing Conservative party in the wake of, er, Brexit… So there’s no UK equivalent to the DMA yet either.)

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The even more particular problem for the ICO is it has systematically failed to act on similar complaints about adtech tracking lacking a proper lawful basis for — literally — years.

It was actually sued for inaction back in 2020 over just such a complaint. And even paused its investigation into adtech entirely during the pandemic, saying it didn’t want to saddle the industry with “undue pressure” at such a difficult time.

What about UK users’ rights not to be unlawfully creeped on by advertisers during Covid? The ICO evidently didn’t feel it should press the industry to care about such details back then — or, well, ever since really. So it’s a bit rich for the ICO to suddenly square up to Meta with implicit concerns that Brits’ info rights aren’t being properly respected. Unless this is the regulator’s Damascene conversion moment — on the need to actually enforce against adtech abuses it has been publicly critical of for years.

Previously the UK regulator has considered an “appropriate response” to rampant law-breaking by the adtech industry to mean convening a few roundtables where advertising execs were seemingly able to fill the room with hot air about respect for compliance while being allowed to continue lucrative data-mining business as usual as the ICO continued ‘investigating’.

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So it’s not clear what action the UK regulator might deem “appropriate” to take against Meta if it keeps trampling local users’ rights to deny its tracking. Hopefully we’re not going to see another open-ended/neverending investigation.

Technically the UK GDPR allows for penalties for confirmed breaches that can reach as high as 4% of global annual turnover — which, in Meta’s case, could sum to a few billion pounds. But the ICO hasn’t strayed anywhere near the theoretical maximums in the GDPR enforcements it has chalked up to date. So the adtech giant may have decided there’s minimum regulatory risk on UK turf — and set the level of respect for local users’ data accordingly. Ergo: No consent for you, you’re British.

We reached out to the ICO with questions about its historical lack of enforce against adtech’s tracking and profiling, and to ask what specific responses it may consider if Meta continues to provide UK users with a lesser level of data protection than other people in European, but the regulator told us it had nothing more to add beyond Almond’s public remarks.

Meta also declined comment on the ICO’s statement. But its spokesman pointed us back to the section of its blog post we quoted above — where it says its intention to switch to consent in the EU and EEA was taken in response to a number of enforcement decisions by the region’s regulators and courts. So, basically, Meta is making the salient point that its looming switch of lawful basis tracks enforcement action. No enforcement, no switch. Simples!

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Of course this also means the ICO does have the power to change how UK users’ rights are treated by Meta or any other adtech entities operating on UK soil. I.e. by actually enforcing UK law on the adtech industry as privacy campaigners have been calling for it to do for years.

Michael Veale, a lecturer in digital rights at the University College London, who was one of the individuals behind the aforementioned complaint about adtech industry practices to the ICO back in 2018 — and who also subsequently took legal action after the regulator closed the complaint a couple of years later without taking a decision — urged the ICO to seize the opportunity it now has to act on its stated concerns for UK users’ rights by regulating adtech giants like Meta directly.

“Since Meta moved its relevant headquarters for UK users from Ireland to the US, the UK is now obliged to regulate the tech firm for itself, not to wait for Ireland. This would be a great time [for the ICO] to show it is ready for these significant new responsibilities,” he told TechCrunch.

“The text of the relevant law applying to Meta is in all relevant ways identical in the EU and the UK. Meta’s choice not to extend the same rights to UK users is it making a calculated decision that privacy enforcement in the UK is weak enough to ignore,” Veale added. “Some of the court judgements do apply to the EU and not the UK, as they were handed down after the end of 2020. But that does not mean that the regulator cannot take clear action using the information provided in the course of these judgements, and on the solid reasoning within them.”

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Meta to let users refuse its cross-site tracking following German antitrust intervention

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​ The UK’s data protection watchdog has responded to Meta’s announcement yesterday that it intends to offer (other) Europeans a free choice to deny its tracking-for-ad-targeting but won’t be asking UK users for their consent to its surveillance — with some, er, pointed remarks. Take it away Stephen Almond, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)’s executive director 

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Humans Need Not Apply: The AI Candidate Promising to Disrupt Democracy

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The rise of AI Steve, the artificial intelligence candidate running for a seat in the UK Parliament, has sparked a heated debate about the role of AI in governance and the potential disruption it could bring to traditional democratic processes.

Steven Endacott, the human force behind AI Steve, envisions his AI co-pilot as a conduit for direct democracy, enabling constituents to engage with the AI, share concerns, and shape its policy platform through a voting system of “validators.” Endacott has pledged to vote in Parliament according to the AI’s constituent-driven platform, even if it conflicts with his personal views.

Proponents argue that AI Steve can revolutionize politics by bringing more voices into the process and ensuring that policies truly reflect the will of the people. They claim that an AI candidate can engage in up to 10,000 conversations simultaneously, allowing for unprecedented levels of public participation and input.

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However, critics raise valid concerns about transparency, accountability, and the potential for AI systems to be manipulated or influenced by their creators, data limitations, or external actors. There are also questions about whether an AI can fully grasp the nuances and human elements involved in complex political issues.

Some argue that AI Steve is merely a clever marketing ploy to garner attention and votes, rather than a genuine effort to “humanize” politics. There are fears that the use of AI in elections could undermine faith in electoral outcomes and democratic processes if voters become aware of potential scams or manipulation.

 

Beyond the specific case of AI Steve, the rise of AI candidates and the increasing use of AI in political campaigns and elections raise broader questions about the integrity of democratic systems and the need for effective regulations and guidelines.

Anti-democratic actors and authoritarian regimes may seek to exploit AI technologies for censorship, surveillance, and suppressing dissent under the guise of enhancing governance. There are also concerns about the potential for an “AI arms race” between political parties to develop and deploy the most sophisticated AI technologies, further eroding public trust.

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As AI tools become more advanced and accessible, upholding electoral integrity will require proactive efforts to establish guardrails, transparency measures, and accountability frameworks around their use in politics. Policymakers, advocates, and citizens must work together to ensure that AI is leveraged as a force for a better and more inclusive democracy, rather than a tool for manipulation or consolidation of power.

The rise of AI candidates like AI Steve serves as a wake-up call for democratic societies to grapple with the implications of artificial intelligence in governance and to strike the right balance between harnessing its potential benefits and mitigating its risks to the democratic process.

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Saudi Arabia Says ‘Thank You, Next’ to the US Dollar

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Saudi Arabia is reportedly considering abandoning the US dollar for oil trade settlements, a move that could shake the foundations of the global financial system. For decades, the petrodollar system has propped up the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency, with Saudi Arabia insisting on dollar payments for its vast oil exports.

However, recent comments from Saudi officials hint at exploring alternatives to the dollar amid growing tensions with the US over various geopolitical issues and the rise of economic powerhouses like China.

Implications of a Petrodollar Shift

If Saudi Arabia abandons the petrodollar, the implications could be significant:

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1. Dollar Dominance Eroded: The dollar’s reserve currency status could weaken, potentially leading to a decline in its value.
2. Global Financial Instability: A sudden shift could trigger volatility in global markets as investors adjust portfolios.
3. Geopolitical Realignment: The move could signal Saudi alignment with China and challenge US economic hegemony.

Challenges and Uncertainties

While the prospect is significant, challenges remain:

1. Finding a suitable alternative currency with the dollar’s liquidity and stability.
2. Potential economic disruption for Saudi Arabia and trading partners.
3. Political backlash and strained relations with the US and allies.

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As the world watches, it remains uncertain whether Saudi Arabia’s comments signal a negotiating tactic or a profound shift in the global financial order.

 

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X Opens the Door to Adult Content With New Policy

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X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, has made a significant policy shift by officially permitting adult content on its platform with some restrictions and guidelines.

In an update to its rules, X stated that users can now share “consensually produced and distributed adult nudity or sexual behavior” as long as it is properly labeled and not prominently displayed in areas like profile pictures or header images.

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“We recognize that many of our users are adults who want to freely express themselves by sharing legal adult content,” said an X spokesperson. “At the same time, we have a responsibility to protect minors and prevent exposure to explicit material without proper labeling.”

Under the new guidelines, users who “regularly post” adult content must adjust their settings to automatically mark images and videos as sensitive content, which blurs or hides the media by default. By default, users under 18 or who haven’t entered their birth date cannot view this sensitive adult content.

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The policy prohibits content “promoting exploitation, nonconsent, objectification, sexualization or harm to minors, and obscene behaviors.” It applies to all adult content, whether photographic, animated, or AI-generated.

X has stated that it will monitor user-generated content and adjust account settings for those who fail to properly mark pornographic posts. Similar rules and enforcement will apply to violent content as well.

The move aligns X with Apple’s app store guidelines, which allow apps with adult content as long as it is hidden by default and behind proper age gates and content warnings.

While adult content was already present on X, this policy update officially permits and regulates it, aiming to balance freedom of expression for consenting adults with protecting minors from exposure to explicit material.

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However, enforcing these rules consistently may prove challenging for X’s reduced content moderation teams following recent layoffs and cost-cutting measures.

The policy shift has drawn mixed reactions, with some praising X for embracing adult expression while others raise concerns about the potential for the platform to become inundated with pornographic content despite the restrictions.

As X navigates this new territory, the effectiveness of its labeling requirements, age verification measures, and content moderation efforts will be closely watched by users, regulators, and advocacy groups alike.

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If you want to create awesome branded experiences that truly captivate your audience, look no further than Bolanle Media. Our team of experts specializes in crafting immersive, unforgettable events that seamlessly blend creativity and strategy. From product launches to experiential marketing activations, we’ll ensure your brand makes a lasting impression. With our finger on the pulse of the latest trends and technologies, we’ll help you engage customers in innovative ways they’ll be buzzing about. Don’t settle for ordinary – let Bolanle Media elevate your brand with extraordinary experiences tailored to your unique vision. Click this link to learn more and take your marketing to new heights.

 

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