Pretending to care

And the prize for the best thing I’ve read on Twitter this week goes to:


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Secret Plot


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India muses digital independence

India is thinking about making itself independent of US big tech companies:

For some Indian political leaders, it is as if their nation — which was ruled by Britain for a century until 1947 — is being conquered by colonial powers all over again.

And they are determined to stop it.

For Google, Facebook, Amazon and others, India’s moves would curb a lucrative business avenue — especially after so many of them were blocked in China. India had become the companies’ next frontier for growth.

When companies have a monopoly, they are able to generate an economic rent, which makes everyone except their shareholders poorer.

Furthermore there is the sovereignty argument: a country not in control over its information infrastructure isn’t really independent.

So if a country can generate its own equivalents of Twitter, Facebook, Android, Google search, etc, there may well be a good case for it doing so.

The case for digital independence is even stronger for Europe than for India, because Europe has a larger economy and more technology, so it would find it easier to build local alternatives.


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Don’t Nationalise Facebook, Mandate Open Data and Protocols

Jeremy Corbyn recently suggested creating a state-run alternative to Facebook:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has come up with the idea of a new sister organisation to the BBC called the “British Digital Corporation”, which might be able to create a new, publicly funded Facebook-like platform.

Despite the large digital footprint of the BBC already, Corbyn said the new organisation would take on the likes of Netflix and Amazon, and maybe create a social media platform to compete with Facebook.

Irina Bolychevsky and James Moulding don’t think this is a the right way to go, and I agree with them. Instead they suggest mandating open protocols:

The idea of setting up a more ethical, privacy-centric platform isn’t new – Diaspora, Mastodon, Sapiens and countless others fill that void. Unfortunately, these alternative platforms all face the same problem of limited user retention, as users can’t migrate their data and profiles from the old platform to the new. You can’t choose to use an alternative and still communicate with your existing friends on Facebook or Instagram – instead, users are forced to start afresh. Yet the value of social media platforms are in their network of users. We have allowed companies to own and control this, making it near impossible for anyone else to compete.

This is correct. Any new service won’t have the existing large number of users that existing ones have, making it very hard to break into the market.

Government should focus on extending the GDPR rights around data portability and enshrining the use of open standards and protocols when it comes to communication and social media.

Yes. What government needs to do is two things.

First, mandate that user-generated content on a website isn’t owned by that website, making it legal for others (such as competing startup websites) to scrape and re-use that data; and require that website don’t put up any technical or legal barriers to doing so.

Secondly, mandate that all social networks and other websites with user-generate content use appropriate open protocols to facilitate anyone extracting their data. Such protocols might include OStatus, Atom, and ActivityPub.

Then social networks would be truly open, like the phone network is today:

Can you imagine using WhatsApp to chat to your friends on Reddit or share photos from Flickr to Facebook and still see likes and comments? That’s the power of open protocols.

The competition would force the big players to up their game:

Even if most people would choose to stay with Facebook, the option of genuine alternatives which users could switch to easily and not lose touch with their existing friends would help keep current giant digital monoliths accountable akin to the Digg Exodus of 2010. Supporting open protocols and standards will enable an ecosystem of viable alternatives that will drive innovation and user choice, privacy and resilience.

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What the EU should do to gain control of its digital infrastructure

The EU is not currently in control of much of its digital infrastructure.Could it be? And Should it be?

Since it is the 2nd largest economy in the world, controlling over a fifth of the world’s economy, it clearly has the ability to be in control if it wants to. And it should want to, to prevent the posibility of hostile outside actors harming European interests.

It could do so by these steps:

1. make sure all chips used in electronics sold in the EU are designed and manufactured there, by European-owned companies. This prevents a backdoor being put in them.

2. make sure all operating systems used in the EU are written there, also to prevent backdoors. The obvious way to do this would be to make it open source and based on Linux.

3. make sure all social media popular in the EU is run on servers based in the EU, and run by companies owned and run in the EU. This is to prevent outside actors from manipulating public opinion or from building up kompromat on individuals.

4. make sure all internet-based data services (e.g. Google Maps API) are run on servers based in the EU by companies owned and run in the EU. This is to prevent outside actors from pulling the plug on them or jacking up prices.


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Britain No Longer Wants Brexit

The following is taken from the article The Country Does Not Want Brexit by Reasons2Remain.

There is now a significant turning point in UK attitudes to Brexit, writes Professor Adrian Low.

The pollster YouGov has completed 70 polls since the referendum, asking whether it was the right or wrong decision to vote to leave the EU.

They have also asked the public eighteen times if there should be a second referendum or not. [Source]

The results are crippling for a government determined to follow ‘the people’s will’, because the polls say that the country wants a second referendum, and does not want to leave the EU.

Since the 2017 general election, 41 out of the 42 polls (36 in a row since July 2017) say we want to remain in the European Union [data:]

The probability that they are all wrong, or even half of them are wrong, is utterly minuscule. (As a statistician, I can’t think of anything so unlikely to compare it with!)

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has a mantra to respect ‘the will of the people.’ But now the evidence is overwhelming that the UK absolutely does not want Brexit.

For a time, despite the polls showing that a majority of the country now wants to remain in the EU, there was not a majority in favour of another referendum.

But that has now changed. A majority now wants a new referendum on Brexit.

More and more of the electorate, both Remainers and Leavers, now want a say on the final Brexit deal. And given a choice, a majority vote would be for Britain to reverse Brexit and stay in the EU.

Mrs May is in the business of ignoring this. But how can she credibly meet with other European leaders if they too, know, that the country doesn’t want to leave the EU?

Her other problem is that if she paid any attention to the new ‘will of the people’ to remain in the EU, there would be a riot from her hard-line Brexiters. And that is where we are well and truly stuck.

We are also stuck with Jeremy Corbyn not supporting another referendum, or to supporting the UK’s continued membership of the EU.

But by an overwhelming majority of 78% to 22%, Labour supporters don’t want the UK to leave the EU. [Source]

And new polling of the Unite Union, the UK’s largest trade union, shows huge support for a second referendum and staying in the EU. [Source]

Apparently, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn does not want to be accused of being anti-democratic by ignoring the referendum vote. But if only his party would recognise today’s new ‘will of the people’, we might have a fighting chance to overturn the folly of Brexit.

If there was another general election in the coming months, and Labour campaigned for another referendum, Labour would win. Of that I am sure.

So, what’s changed so much in the last year?

Well, 10% of Remain voters felt they had to accept the ‘democratic’ Brexit vote from the day following the referendum.

Polling just after the referendum showed that 90% of Remain voters thought the Brexit decision was wrong. They still think it’s wrong, and that 90% is growing.

Of Leave voters, 7% changed their mind about Brexit the morning after the referendum. But today that figure is now 17%.

In the 2016 referendum, the majority for Leave was 3.8%. But now, that’s completely flipped, and the majority for Remain today is 7.5%.

On current trends, the majority for Remain on the day we’re scheduled to leave the EU, on 29 March 2019, will be 10%.

And among those who didn’t vote in the referendum, there is now a 28% majority for remaining in the EU. Give them a chance to speak, and the whole Brexit edifice collapses.

The country has changed its mind about Brexit.

We now know so much more about Brexit that we didn’t know in the referendum of over two years ago. We have greater clarity on what Brexit is going to mean for each of us, and that is now strongly reflected in the polls.

▪ Few of us who voted in the referendum did so with the thought of Northern Ireland being forced back into crisis.

▪ Few of us realised that we’d have tariffs on UK goods.

▪ Few voters knew that only 1.1% of government funding actually goes to the EU.

▪ Few of us appreciated that there may be ‘no deal’ – which is now looking increasingly likely. It means that Britons living across the EU may have no health care, forcing them to return home to Britain. It means uncertainty too for EU citizens who have made the UK their home.

▪ Few of us took on board that the ‘hard Brexit’ which is now looming would cause so much damage to our crucial manufacturing and service industries.

▪ Few thought our institutions like Lloyds of London would really move to Brussels as a result of Brexit.

▪ Few knew about the lies and the illegal overspending of the Leave campaigns, fuller details of which are only now emerging.

YouGov’s raw figures actually underplay the reality of the significant swing away from Leave to Remain.

YouGov, for reasons only known to them, only sample Great Britain in their polling, and don’t include Northern Ireland or Gibraltar, both of whom voted strongly to remain in the EU.

YouGov also incorporate ‘don’t knows’ in their polling, but as we know, referendums are no respecters of those who don’t vote.

Take all that into account, and I have calculated that between 3% to 4% need to be added to the majority in Britain who now want another referendum, and the majority who now want Britain to stay in the EU. [See analysis]

The bottom line is that the UK wants a second referendum and does not now want to leave the EU.

Are you listening, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn?

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New Ladybird Books Give Practical Advice for Brexit

Ladybird have launched a new series of 6 books giving practical advice on how to cope with Brexit and its aftermath:



A seventh book is also on its way, entitled “Practical Cannabalism: 101 Recipes For Cooking With Humans”. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.

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