4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (III). Content on the internet: regulation or self-regulation?

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session III

Round Table
Content on the internet: regulation or self-regulation?

Chairs: Raquel Xalabarder, Law Professor, UOC

Do we want to give up on the freedom we can have now? Do we want self-regulation or we want more education that leads to more commitment?

http://www.iqua.net, Spanish Internet Quality Agency (IQUA) and CEO Derecho.com

More than self-regulation, what it’s happening is that the liability to apply toughest laws if shifted towards the customer/user or the industry (ISPs and/or carriers).

But this has not been a matter of consensus, nor a widening of the range (from tough to soft) of the regulation spectrum.

Over-regulation puts an extra burden to the industry, making it more difficult for the Information Society to develop in a healthy way.

There’s a big room for metadata to play an important role in self-regulation, without being intrusive while providing good information for both the end user, the competition and the regulator.

Amadeu Abril, lawyer

Collective self-regulation seems another mean to name regulation against competition (i.e. my competitors.

Context matters, really matters, the problem being that exactly the same content is a really different thing when the framework changes. So how can self-regulation be effective with such a slippery landscape?

There’s a big difference between what is legal or not — and this is regulated by the laws that apply in the real world — and what is good or not. And this is another debate. And it was addressed in the TV by defining what was appropriate content depending on the time of the day, but cannot be addressed in the Internet, where both time and space are very relative concepts.

Miguel Pérez Subías, President of the Spanish Internet Users Association.

Self-regulation sounds good when at the individual level. But at the collective level, is it self-regulation? Or is is another thing? Can self-regulation be designed for communities? Besides, “compulsory self-regulation” is just regulation.

A second problem with self-regulation is that it seems to go against all moral and ethics we’ve learned in our childhood: wasn’t sharing good?

Yet another problem: there’s no transition taking place from one mindset to another one. Our mindset and our children’s are way too different and the divide between both has no transition. This poses a problem to any kind of regulatory change or, worse, a real challenge to the transmission of values.

Are we talking about the how’s before talking about the why’s? On the other hand, the debate has been focused on the economic sphere, not in the public (good) sphere. And this has caused many contradictions.

Main conflicts: intellectual property rights, security vs. privacy trade-off, control vs. freedom.

Mónica Ariño, OFCOM

If self-regulation is free adoption from the industry of any form of regulation, this does not exist. Co-regulation is what really takes place: as there is no free adoption of any kind of regulation (self-regulation), the private and public sector try and agree a second best.

For self-regulation to be effective, appropriate incentives have to be designed and these incentives have to be aligned with the public interest.

Norms have to be reasonable.

The participation of the customer is key for a better design of a self-regulatory system.

One of the main problems of self-regulation is the shift in who supports the burden of the responsibility to enforce this regulation. Indeed, there’s been some shifting too from what cannot be done, to list what can be done on the Internet, then subverting the whole rule of Law.

Besides protection, and self-regulation, there’s a tremendous work to be done in the digital and media literacy fields.

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (II). Regulation of audiovisual content in the age of digital convergence

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session II

Debate
Regulation of audiovisual content in the age of digital convergence

Mónica Ariño, Policy Advisor, OFCOM’s International Team.

What is convergence? What can be said about regulation of content on the Internet and the Internet itself? Privacy, cybercrime, copyright, fair use? Internet access?

A big commitment is how to update broadcasting regulations that where set up in times very different from the ones we’re living in. A first thing to be updated is the concept of media literacy and whether the receiver is media literate.

Another commitment is regulatory cohesion in the international landscape.

Last, maybe the biggest commitment is fighting social alarm about “things” that are “happening” in the Net, especially children exposure to specific content — and people — on the Internet.

So, there seem to be reasons for intervention, though we still have to clearly define where, what and exactly why. In any case, the novelty of it all, and the need to update, seems to be another reason for intervention itself.

What should be regulated and why?

A thing that is clear: Internet is a broadcasting device that competes within a (regulated) sector, such as television or radio. But, in a convergence framework, if TV is moving to other platforms, should its regulation strictly (and without adaptation) follow? Things have changed: scarcity (e.g. of wave spectrum) does not exist anymore, the receiver is also an emitter and a creator, etc.

Freedom of expression has also changed its meaning in this framework… and should not be threaten by regulation, especially bad regulation.

When you subscribe to some content on demand, and the provider is in your same legal jurisdiction, things come easy. The problem is when you can access any content from anywhere.

All in all, regulation should (can) not aim at proving the optimum, a safe Internet, but a second best: to be able to tag some content so the user can approach it with a minimum amount of information.

So, how do we educate audiences?

Some data: all kids and youngsters access the Internet, without surveillance by their parents, who think they are less skilled in Internet issues than their own children are. And them parents don’t even know where to go to get information about content, practices and risks related to them both. Does this give arguments for regulation? Maybe yes.

Self-regulation in some sites (e.g. YouTube) can also be improved, so it is not that opaque, it becomes more flexible and quick, etc.

Filtering software — for seach engines — is another option to help the user contribute to “regulate” access to content.

It is very important that users understand how these tools work, and this is why media literacy is so important. Even more when regulating institutions cannot, by construction, be as flexible and quick in response as the users themselves.

Mónica Ariño, Joan Barata
Mónica Ariño, Joan Barata

Joan Barata, Professor of Administrative Law and President’s Office Manager, Catalan Audiovisual Council (CAC).

The case of Spain is even more complicated, as there is no regulation at the TV content level, and if there was, some problems would arise about the jurisdiction of regionally decentralized regulatory bodies.

An added problem: one thing is whether it is relevant or appropriate to regulate, and the other thing is whether regulation can be enforced. Then, if regulation cannot actually be enforced “in the last mile”, does it make any sense to try to (besides is appropriateness)?

And, indeed, how do we cope with gatekeepers that obscurely apply their own procedures to guarantee “proper” content on their platforms?

Until some years ago, regulation bodies defined what was pluralism and so they defined public services to cover this pluralism. But what is now pluralism? What is pluralism when a few platforms get most traffic? Can we still preserve a democratic public sphere where a national authority defines its own collective identity, when the definition of a collective identity is now in private hands?

Q&A

Carlos Alonso: isn’t the need for regulation a social fiction? i.e. we “need” a regulator (for everything). MA: the problem is not only that regulation might be unnecessary, but that the solution given would be a fake, as the regulator is providing something that cannot be effectively enforced. On the other hand, within the limits of actual regulation, the regulator should not intervene in what can or cannot be shown in a specific platform, mainly because of a lack of context: who’s accessing that platform, why, what for, when, etc. The idea that consumers are the ones responsible of their consumption is the one that should permeate.

Eben Moglen: the idea that content must be safe is ludicrous. There will always be somebody offended by some content of by someone. So there is not even a point in content regulation. And this especially applies from the moment that video will become such a “normal” content on the web as it is now text.

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (I). Eben Moglen: Living Apart Together: Social Networking in the Free World

Notes from the 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress.
Session I

Opening

Eduard Aibar, Vice-President of Research, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Pere Fabra, Dean School of Law and Political Science, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Jordi Bosch, Head of the Telecommunicacions and Information Society Department, Government of Catalonia

Keynote speech
Eben Moglen
Living Apart Together: Social Networking in the Free World

Capitalism produces inherently defective technology, mainly because of the short sightedness of the whole process. Global heating and the combustion engine being one of the most present short sightedness examples of capitalism today.

Social networking software might be at stake and be another good example of such defective technology, which will potentially cause social harm in the future as these technologies will deviate from appropriate, optimum, goals.

The Net was created with a socialist ideology: Absence of advertising, absence of surveillance, absence of tracking what one was doing (reading, writing) on the Net, a collaborative philosophy. The Wikipedia is the best example of those principles put in practice.

Social Networking Software (SNS) are tools, owned by private capital, to subvert the essence of the Net for the benefit of capitalism and its capitalists: to include advertising, to add surveillance devices, to know who read what and when, and to focus on the individual and not the community.

Eben Moglen
Eben Moglen

SNS are, technically, but content management systems (CMS), and are hence not so revolutionary neither in their concept nor in their design. Actually, all the technologies and devices used are freely available to anyone so that many other SNSs can be built at will… without the need to give away your data to the people that are now managing them.

But the fact is that web server managers are using web server logs to watch all the traces a user leaves on a web server — actually, yet another subversion of the socialist design behind the web: web server logs where intended to optimize software and bandwidth use, not for user surveillance —. And datamining is born.

So a model of you — and not a model of people, but a model of you is drawn each and every day. So the whole interest of capitalism in technology is to stimulate purchases and so increase sales.

So, instead of helping people get their own SNSs on their own web servers, a faustian bargain is made where “free” access to “free” software is given in exchange of personal data… and promise of future purchases. And how do you keep anything secret from anyone?

We should be aware that there is no technical need to keep on with on with this way of behaving, but just convenience, where convenience means you don’t have to think, and others are about to think about you without any restriction.

It’s just possible that in a near future, the possibility of wiping out advertising from web pages — as some web browsers are increasingly trying to — will take off. And then, the Web 2.0 hype will be over, as there’ll be no business to be done by providing “free” web spaces to everyone.

On the other hand, the actual business model of SNSs is not only challenging citizenry privacy, but also the business model of telecoms, whose business of moving along chunks of data, bits and bytes, is no more profitable, and their shift towards premium content is blocked by big media companies that do own content and are investing in alternative ways of distributing it by circumventing telecoms: SNSs.

Q&A

Me: how do we face sustainability of these desirable services if we take out ads and/or paying with our data? EM: The free software model, or the Wikipedia model can help in this. Me: but where’s the limit of volunteer responsibility and commitment? EM: It’s just that we don’t need any business model. In a socialist world, and with existing technology, we can bring good services in other ways and keeping out of the equation the gatekeepers, that insist in wanting to have “their” money.

Mónica Ariño: next step?

EM: Making people aware of the faustian bargain, of what’s been done with their lives without their consent and in constant secrecy. So, what’s the programme of the revolution? The first step is won: free software is a real possibility. Next step is the deterioration of media control, ISPs (“the switches”) control, etc. We have to end the ownership of culture. We have to end network operators. We have to reach an advanced step of development with the ability of every citizen to send and receive information in equal conditions.

Carlos Alonso: how do we spread this ideology all over the rest of socioeconomic sectors… and in a brief period of time (not in 200 years, like the industrial revolution)? EM: There’s a good amount of products and services that are produced at a non zero cost but copied, distributed and consumed at zero cost. So the model does already work. And where products are produced at zero cost, the answer is even more valid. And if we include the long run in the equation, it does fit even better. Because, are we talking about social benefit, profit or greed?

4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress (2008)

Announcement: 4th Internet, Law and Politics Congress

For the fourth time — see here some notes about last year’s congress — at the School of Law and Political Science, Open University of Catalonia, we organize our Internet, Law and Politics Congress, this year’s tagline quite an appealing one: Social Software and Web 2.0: Legal and Political Implications.

Programme (abridged)

Monday, 2 June 2008

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

More information

  • 2-3 June 2008
  • Venue: Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Av. Tibidabo 39-43, Barcelona
  • Registration is free
  • Official Website