Police face off with civil liberties group over Automatic Facial Recognition
The use of automatic facial recognition technology by police facing a legal challenge from Big Brother Watch, a leading civil liberties group. Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR), works in conjunction with CCTV camera systems, allowing law enforcement agencies to compare and record images of people with criminals and suspects facial patterns stored on police databases. The technology has been described as “very intrusive” in public places by one prominent watchdog organisation. AFR allows the police to monitor several cameras in real time, pattern matching faces on the street with recorded and known criminal elements. The Metropolitan Police have already tested ACR at a number of mass crowd events – Notting Hill Carnival for the last two years, at Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, and the Cenotaph on Memorial Sunday.
Big Brother Watch’s legal team are arguing the case that under the Human Rights Act, including the right to privacy and freedom of expression, and as such, AFR is a breach of the rights of the individual. A scheme, currently being piloted by The Metropolitan Police in London, alongside three other forces in the UK who are also testing and evaluating its effectiveness.
Some of the court documents relating to the case also claim that the Home Office has on several occasions failed to regulate AFR’s use in a number of cases. Even the Metropolitan Police’s own research, recently published indicates that during these trials, there were only two exact matches from 104 system alerts. Big Brother Watch are also concerned with the length of time facial images and patterns recorded by using AFR systems can be legally held.
Court papers also show that Police in South Wales also used AFR over 18 times between 2017 and 2018. CCTV surveillance in Cardiff during a demonstration at what was described as an ‘arms fair’ utilised AFR to gather images of the general public. Even so, according to data from the Welsh force, AFR generated 2,451 alerts with only 234 proving accurate as of last April. Police officers on those occasions incorrectly identified 31 people, asking them all for proof of identity on a stop and search basis.
“When the police use facial recognition surveillance they subject thousands of people in the area to highly sensitive identity checks without consent”, according to Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch. “We’re hoping the court will intervene, so the lawless use of facial recognition can be stopped. It is crucial our public freedoms are protected”.
Needless to say, the Metropolitan Police and the other forces are going to argue the case for AFR, putting it on a solid legal footing with other elements stored on databases, namely fingerprints and DNA.
Google nailed for €4.3 billion by EU regulators
Google has been fined a whopping €4.3 billion by EU regulators for apparently breaking antitrust laws. Google, according to the EU commission, has taken serious advantage of Android’s market dominance. Google has routinely added its search engine and other Chrome apps as accessories alongside the operating system. Google was also accused of stopping phone makers from creating devices that could run what are referred to as ‘forked versions’ of Android, by making facilitating payments to some of the larger manufacturers and mobile network operators in order to exclusively bundle Google’s search app on new phones.
Google has confirmed that it will appeal the decision, and warns that the EU’s decision could affect the free business model based around the Android operating system in the future. Android is supposted to epitomise the open-source software model, but over the years Google has added more and more specific apps to its Google Play Services platform. Android handsets in the EU and worldwide with the exception unsurprisingly of China, now come fresh out of the box with Google’s software and services as standard as a result of anti-fragmentation agreements in order to keep manufacturers using Google’s version of Android.
Google has to follow the EU ruling within 90 days, by removing Goggle Search and Chrome from its basic Android package. The decision is geared towards preventing Google from grouping its services to Android rather than change Android to a great extent. Phone manufacturers are still able to add the Google Search and Chrome apps as standard if they want to – the difference is that now the companies supplying the phones are no longer obliged by Google to follow its playbook, and as such they can now offer devices with forked versions of Android and a greater choice for the consumer.
Android has been under severe scrutiny from The European Commission over the last twelve months, since rivals complained that Google has been guilty of abusing its market dominance over software apps for smartphones. A group of companies calling themselves FairSearch filed a complaint against Google in 2013 This group included key industry players such as Microsoft, Trip Advisor, CEPIC , Nokia, and Oracle. Google and Microsoft have often been at loggerheads, even though their high profile patent war officially ended back in 2015, the EU has still been determined to investigate the matter further.
European Commissioners have now told Google to bring its “illegal conduct to an end in an effective manner within 90 days of the decision”. Google has also been told to stop preventing phone makers from setting up forked versions of Android. According to the commission, Google “did not provide any credible evidence that Android forks would be affected by technical failures or fail to support apps.” Google was forced to stop illegal payments to manufacturers and service providers for app bundling back in 2014 after the EU started investigating the practice.
The €4.3 billion knocks its previous fine from the EU for €2.3 billion last year over its finding that Google manipulated search results, which is still undergoing the appeal process from Google and in all honesty will probably drag on for years to come. The EU do like a good anti-competition fine, as both Facebook, Apple and Microsoft have suffered a similar fate from the Eurozone – Microsoft was in fact fined twice when it failed to include an opt out for a Windows 7 update. Google’s main rival on the smartphone front, Apple, was ordered to pay back taxes of €13.2 billion in taxes to the European Union.
Virgin not happy with UKTV, angering fee paying customers
Virgin Media and the BBC are having something of a hissy fit. Virgin has removed ten channels from the UKTV pantheon from its digital tv packages after the UKTV, who are are a consortium comprised of the BBC and the Discovery Channel group, failed to reach agreement after Virgin wanted to drastically reduce the price paid for airing the channels from its pay TV platform, some of which are already available on Freeview. Channels included GOLD, Dave, Alibi and Drama were all replaced last weekend with what some would describe as sub-standard channels, leaving more than a few customers somewhat miffed.
Darren Childs, the chief executive of UKTV said in a statement, “We’re hugely disappointed for the many customers who are losing out because our channels are no longer available through Virgin Media.” “We completely understand their frustration and would love to continue to bring them the shows and channels that they’re so passionate about, but we need a fair price to support our growing investment in programmes. The reality is that we just can’t accept the drastic price cut that Virgin wants.”
The disagreement peaked last week when Virgin announced that it would swap out UKTV channels with alternative ones.
UKTV’s stance on the matter is also quite public. Virgin’s demanded that UKTV should accept a ‘huge cut’ in its channel fees. When seen alongside the recent increase in Virgin’s subscription fees, the channel consortium has gone on record to explain why it has not bowed to Virgin’s demands. Child’s arguments were threefold. First, UKTV found it unreasonable be asked to pay to be part of what is effectively a product that Virgin Media sells to customers. Virgin Media don’t supply its customers with TV packages without subscription fees. So by asking for the cut, UKTV were effectively asked to subsidise Virgin’s business by paying to be part of a product that they already sell. And to see this in context, all of the channels that were pulled are available online or on Freesat without subscription.
When the row erupted last week, Virgin Media blamed the hoohah on “restrictions put on UKTV by the BBC”, and by claiming that UKTV is “not able to provide the significant on-demand programming that we know our customers want.”
It seems that the model for watching television has changed beyond all recognition over the last twenty years. With the advent of pay per view services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, YouTube and Android TV hot on their heels, this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for many paying viewers.
Banning children from the internet is ‘Child Abuse’ claims academic
A leading sociologist has come forward and said that banning children from the internet is tantamount to ‘child abuse’. Any parent will tell you that there is a fine line when balancing children and screen time – whether it be the television, smartphone or tablet – across the board, there are extremely differing views on this vexatious matter. There is much debate about whether too much time is detrimental to young minds and health, especially in light of the recent revelation that the National Health Service has opened its first internet addiction centre. Is it subversive and damaging, or could it be educational and informative? Perhaps both.
Sociologist Ellis Cashmore, whose new book Screen Society has just been published, challenges the view that too much screen time is damaging for children, and she has warned parents against trying to ban youngsters from using the internet at home, saying that it is indeed, “tantamount to child abuse”.
“We can potentially become dependent on anything and any activity: chocolate, sex, ironing … But that’s not addiction,” he believes. “We engage with our screen devices not because we’re addicted but because we derive gratification from them. They are rewarding activities.”
Cashmore, an honorary Professor of Sociology at Aston University in Birmingham, studied over 2,000 internet users with help from researchers at Teesside University and the University of South Australia, to build a better understanding about the way in which video screens are used, and they all agreed that the risks to children have been exaggerated, and are actually outweighed by the educational and social advantages that the internet can provide.
Cashmore is also reticentl about the rise in focus on the phenomena of social media trolls, that enjoy subjecting children to abusive and hateful comments online, and in fact believes that the risk is often overstated. “Trolling goes on, of course, but there’s not a dedicated self-conscious cabal of trolls who dedicate themselves to making life hell for other people.”
“Imagine if parents stopped children reading, watching and conversing with other children, or playing educational games, drawing, colouring, dancing. Kids do all these kind of things when engaged with screens,” Cashmore explains. “If parents prevent children pursuing these kind of activities offline, they would be accused of some form of abuse. They’d effectively be stunting the child’s development”. Cashmore believes that one of the biggest misconceptions that parents have about internet enabled devices such as tablets is that they could be addictive.
The Starjammer Group receives a makeover
As mentioned in last week’s Bulletin, The Starjammer Group have instigated a few changes, and has had a small makeover to commemorate a number of events, principally the acquisition of the ‘starjammer.com‘ domain name earlier this year (much easier for people to remember). Faithful to our logo of fifteen years, the new look also retains our beloved Century Gothic font, while giving us a fresh new edge we believe.
One of the main changes that most people will notice is that Starjammer Internet has now merged with Starjammer Hosting. The reasosns for the change were technical rather than economical, enabling Starjammer Internet to provide better services for its many customers who will benefit from the numerous upgrades to their services. The Starjammer Group is often referred to just as Starjammer, so we thought we’d go with the flow. Starjammer Business has become effectively two companies, and will be relaunched next month, in time for our next Business News Bulletin near the end of August.
And to polish things off, we have commissioned a new promo to ring in the changes. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did making it.