Digital Brief: A Brave, New and Sick World

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“Europe and the whole world are facing an unprecedented situation.”

– EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton, 18 March 2020.


INTERNET ‘STRAIN’. The EU’s internet infrastructure is ‘under strain’ and a series of measures should be implemented by online streaming platforms as a means to mitigate the higher demand for bandwidth amid the current coronavirus quarantine period, the European Commission said on Wednesday evening (18 March).


*Also this week*

Telecom industry sending data to governments, 3D Printing solutions for hospitals, anti-crisis hackers, Commission remote working, COVID19 disinformation fight, GDPR abuses against trade unions, and more…


“Streaming platforms, telecom operators and users, we all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the Internet during the battle against the virus propagation,” said the EU’s Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton on Wednesday evening.

In this vein, the measures that the Commission would like to see enacted by certain high-capacity streaming platforms, include “temporarily offering Standard Definition rather than High Definition” video content, as well as calling on telecom operators to “take measures in order to prevent and mitigate the impacts of impending network congestion.”

In this context, EURACTIV’s Philipp Grüll reports this week that the Austrian broadcasting authority RTR has given the green light for certain online services, like video streaming, to be throttled.

Telecom operator sends citizens’ movement data to the government. Telecom operator A1 started voluntarily providing the data of its users to the government, without them knowing. The telecom operator wanted to assist the government in monitoring the effectiveness of its measures which aim at keeping citizens at home. EURACTIV Germany’s Philipp Grüll looks at how A1 justified the move.

Similar measures have recently been taken out in Germany by Deutsche Telekom and in Belgium by Proximus. In response to the news, Green MEP Patrick Breyer hit out at the risks to EU privacy: “Monitoring the movements of all citizens – even without names – does not protect anyone from infection, but it makes unprecedented mass surveillance possible,” he said.

“Analysing bulk location data threatens to become a precedent for real-time identification of non-public meetings and gatherings, which can be very important for example for the confidential planning of political activities and actions. What now starts as a research project could become a weapon of mass surveillance and a highly dangerous instrument of persecution in the hands of a nationalist government.”

Italian Big Data Move. Meanwhile, the Italian Ministry of Innovation, is establishing an expert task force that will work alongside the University of Pavia in analysing datasets provided by Facebook in order to trace the spead of COVID19, according to Wired. This comes after Italian telco firms Tim, Vodafone, Wind, and Fastweb opened up anonymous data sets to the public authorities.

EU DPA Positions. COVID-19 guidance published by European DPAs has been rounded up nicely by the International Association of Privacy Professionals. See more here.  Meanwhile, the Chair of the European Data Protection Board, Andrea Jelinek, released her own recommendations earlier this week.

COVID19 tech solutions. The EU’s additive manufacturing sector is rallying the potential benefits of 3D printing technologies for aiding in the shortage of vital health equipment needed for treating coronavirus patients across Europe.

The European Commission recently asked members of CECIMO, the European association for Additive Manufacturing, to assist in “producing equipment” that European hospitals are lacking due to the coronavirus outbreak. Filip Geerts, Director General of CECIMO, informed EURACTIV that the association has put out a call for action among member companies, that has resulted in an “overwhelming” response from the European 3D Printing industry. Read more here.

Commission remote working. As part of their remote working programme, the European Commission has had to make a number of changes to how employees are able to carry out their work from distance.

There have been concerns that the security of internal networks could be compromised with so many employees working remotely, and the executive says it is constantly ‘monitoring’ the situation. Here’s some more detail on the specific measures that have been taken.

Anti-crisis hackers unite. Talking of finding solutions to the current coronavirus crisis, an international community of hackers have embarked on a project to find innovative solutions to the everyday challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

Cybersecurity in the age of COVID19. Phishing emails, trojans and spam are now spreading over the Internet. Experts estimate that more than 3% of coronavirus websites that have been created since the beginning of the year contain malicious content. EURACTIV’s Lucia Yar has more.

Coronavirus disinformation fight. Earlier this week, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) launched a probe into the resilience of the bloc’s attempts to stifle fake news that can ’cause public harm.’ An internal EU report seen by the FT recently pointed the finger at the Russians for leading a Coronavirus misinformation campaign.

However, EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov reported earlier this week that Russia’s domestic audience may actually be the main target of the disinformation campaign. Elsewhere, Mark Zuckerberg told reporters on a phone call yesterday afternoon that Facebook has stepped up its efforts to clamp down on coronavirus misinformation, but that no governments have approached him directly for the use of Facebook data, despite partnerships the company has with various health authorities worldwide.

Artificial Intelligence. What if we could fight coronavirus with artificial intelligence? The European Parliament Think Tank looks into how innovative AI could help.

Eurovision cancelled. On the broadcasting front, Vlagyiszlav also reported yesterday that the Eurovision song contest has been cancelled this year, because of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The annual contest has run interrupted since its debut in 1956.

Media COVID19 Action Plan? Journalists have been working tirelessly to deliver citizens trustworthy news around the clock, with regards to the coronavirus outbreak. Those working in media policy are now calling for the Commission to bring forward their Media Action Plan, which was originally due to come out in Q4, to help ensure the sustainability of the sector.

EURACTIV’s founder and chief of the think tank Fondation EURACTIV, Christophe Leclercq, believes now is a critical time. “Journalists play a key role during this health crisis, to maintain trust in sound information,” he said. “At the same time, media companies now lose most of their ads and event business. It’s high time to save this democracy infrastructure.”

Bulgarian journalist assaulted. In other media news, a well-known Bulgarian investigative journalist was assaulted by masked men late Tuesday outside his home on a central Sofia boulevard, sparking angry reactions from journalist organisations.

GDPR abuses. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is being misused by employers across Europe as trade unions are denied access to information required to recruit and organise workers, a new study has found.

ICYMI. France’s competition authority on Monday slapped a €1.1 billion fine on Apple, for anti-competitive behaviour.



On my radar.

The institutional cycle has temporarily ground to a halt. But we’ll continue to keep you updated on all relevant EU policy tech news, as operations start to move exclusively online. 



What else I’m reading this week:

Upcoming events:

  • While many Brussels events have been cancelled for the foreseeable future, I’m pleased to be moderating a panel at the CYBERSEC Brussels forum on the Digital Services Act. See the full programme here. The conference will be taking place completely online.  

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