Digital Brief: Twitter’s Political Backlash

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“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.”

– Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Wednesday 30 October.


TWITTER AD BAN. In a veiled critique at Facebook’s alleged reluctance to take a hardline stance against the misuse of political messages, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey yesterday announced that the his company will ban political advertising.

“We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally,” said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a statement here. “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.” The ban is due to take affect on November 22.

For their part, Facebook came out on the defensive on Wednesday, with founder Mark Zuckerberg saying that the platform did not want to hinder political speech.

Twitter’s announcement comes amid a backlash against political advertising in the EU, with concerns mounting as to the misuse of platforms for political gain. Earlier this week, the Commission drew attention to various shortfalls in the moderation of disinformation and fake news across platform ecosystems, in the first-annual reviews of the code of practice against disinformation, more on that below.

More broadly, the EU’s forthcoming Digital Services Act – to be unveiled by the Commission in 2020, will seek to address the issue of the misuse of political advertising, and incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that she would like “greater transparency on paid political advertising” as part of her European Democracy Action Plan. Meanwhile, Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato said Twitter’s move on Wednesday represented a “principled stance that deserves plaudits.”

DISINFORMATION. Staying with the platforms, the case for the EU regulation of online disinformation “will be evaluated” in the coming months ahead of a decision in early 2020, a Commission official revealed on Tuesday (29 October). At the same time, the EU’s executive conceded that its disinformation alert system has never been triggered – raising concerns as to whether regulation is absolutely necessary in the first place.

FACEBOOK SETTLEMENT: Elsewhere, Facebook reached a settlement on Wednesday for its part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal – which will see them settle the £500,000 UK data protection watchdog fine, but avoid having to admit any wrongdoing.

GERMAN HATE SPEECH MEASURES. The German government has published new plans to improve the country’s ability to combat online hate speech, which oblige platforms to proactivley work with local authorities as a means to report violations.

GERMAN GDPR FINE HIKE? Staying in Germany, the country’s Data Protection Authorities have published a new GDPR breach calculation model, that may lead to significantly increased fines.

GAIA-X: Also, the German government is accelerating the buildup of a European cloud network in the fight against impending dependence on Chinese and US providers. The “Gaia-X Project,” is due to be established in the spring of 2020, according to a paper published on Tuesday by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

POLISH 5G. The government and companies from the telecommunications industry have signed an agreement to develop a new company, Polskie 5G, with an aim to build fifth-generation network infrastructure in Poland, EURACTIV’s Michał Strzałkowski reports. Paweł Borys, President of the Polish Development Fund (PFR), announced the deal, while the Minister of Digital Affairs Marek Zagórski and representatives of telecommunications companies Exatel, Orange Polska, T-Mobile Polska, Play Polska and Plus Polska signed the agreement.

UK & HUAWEI. According to The Times, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to grant Huawei access to ‘non-contentious’ parts of the UK’s 5G network. An announcement was expected from the UK’s Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan, but following yesterday’s news that she will not stand in the upcoming UK general election, a public disclosure on the UK’s approach to Huawei may be postponed for the time being. A UK government spokesperson told EURACTIV that “the security of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance and a decision on high risk vendors will be made in due course.”

Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, told me in July that Huawei 5G equipment will probably be used in core aspects of the UK’s future 5G network infrastructure.

ITALIAN WECHAT? Luigi Marattin, a lawmaker from former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s party Italia Viva, is preparing a draft law requiring a valid ID in order to open a social media account. The proposal is meant to reduce hate speech and fake news but has stirred debate across Italy, striking comparisons with the Chinese application, ‘WeChat’ because it could impact the right to anonymity and freedom of expression, EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna has found.

DATA BREACH. Staying with Italy, UniCredit has uncovered a data breach involving the personal records of 3 million domestic clients, it said on Monday (28 October), the third security incident at Italy’s top bank in recent years.

SPANISH DATA TRACKING. Spain’s National Statistical Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE) plans to track the movements of millions of Spanish citizen’s cellphones to conduct a ‘sociological study’, El Pais and EFE reported on Tuesday (29 October).

EUROPEAN DATA PROTECTION SUPERVISOR: Following the recent passing of the European Data Protection Supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, his temporary incumbent Wojciech Wiewiórowski is seeking to stake his claim for the permanent role. Earlier this week, he published a blog post on facial recognition, highlighting the privacy and data protection issues that could be in store and no doubt, in the processes seeking to boost his profile.

As for the other names in the running for the top job, it’s been confirmed to EURACTIV that France’s Yann Padova of the legal firm Baker McKenzie, UN privacy expert Joe Cannataci from Malta and Hungarian VP of the country’s Data protection authority Endre Szabó have all been shortlisted.

The shortlist of names will be submitted to the Council and the Parliament in order to make a final appointment decision. A Commission insider told EURACTIV that the EU’s executive branch is “aware of the urgency to complete the pre-procedure” in time for the current conclusion of the term at the beginning of December.

LEAVE THE KIDS ALONE. EURACTIV France reports this week that the French data protection authority, the National Commission for Information Technology and Liberties (CNIL), does not want the national education system to implement a facial recognition system. While two sites in the Provence Alpes Cotes d’Azur region have planned to experiment with such a system, the authority has indicated that “this system concerning pupils, most of whom are minors, for the sole purpose of making access easier and safer, does not appear necessary or proportionate to achieve these objectives”.

WELSH FACIAL RECOGNITION CONCERNS. Alarms were raised by privacy advocates over the weekend, as it transpired that South Wales Police would be scanning football fans with live facial recognition at a football match between Cardiff City v Swansea City football match. Vince Alm, spokesperson for Football Supporters’ Association Wales said that the move was “completely unnecessary and disproportionate,” while Silkie Carlodirector of Big Brother Watch said that the police decision to target fans with intrusive mass surveillance “treats all fans as suspects, damages trust and is a total waste of public money.”

CZECH TV TAKEOVER. EURACTIV’s Aneta Zachová reports this week that the PPF investment group, owned by wealthy Czech businessman, Petr Kellner, is taking over the Central European Media Enterprises (CME) that operates the most popular Czech TV station Nova and other television channels across Eastern Europe, such as Slovakian Markíza, Bulgarian bTV or the Romanian Pro TV.

According to the director of the Foundation for Independent Journalism Josef Šlerka, who spoke to public broadcaster Czech Radio, this move is politically motivated and put Czech press freedom at serious risk. The  PPF has denied such allegations.

APPLE PAY HEADACHE. Apple Inc is in line for more regulatory troubles as EU antitrust regulators are currently probing whether not eCommerce companies have been ordered to use its mobile payment service instead of competitors’ services, an EU document seen by Reuters showed.

EPRIVACY. A revised version of the ePrivacy text has been tabled by the Finnish Presidency for the next meeting of the Working Party on Telecommunications and Information Society on November 7th.


On my radar.

There’s a few relevant Parliamentary happenings coming up next week, that are well worth keeping an eye on.

  • Civil Liberties Committee public hearing on “Media Freedom, Freedom of Expression and Combatting hate speech online and offline” (6th November).
  • Internal Market committee update on ongoing interinstitutional negotiations for terrorist content online regulation. Also, a discussion with A DG Connect representative on the Free flow of non-personal data in the EU will take place. (6th November).
  • The Legal Affairs Committee will be presented with the Ethics Guidelines on Artificial Intelligence by Andrea Renda, Member of the High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence. (6th November) 


What else I’m reading this week:


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