Bookmarked Commission opens non-compliance investigations against Alphabet, Apple and Meta under the Digital Markets Act (by European Commission)

With the large horizontal legal framework for the single digital market and the single market for data mostly in force and applicable, the EC is initiating first actions. This announcement focuses on app store aspects, on steering (third parties being able to provide users with other paths of paying for services than e.g. Apple’s app store), on (un-)installing any app and freedom to change settings, as well as providers preferencing own services above those of others. Five investigations for suspected non-compliance involving Google (Alphabet), Apple, and Meta (Facebook) have been announced. Amazon and Microsoft are also being investigated in order to clarify aspects that may lead to suspicions of non-compliance.

The investigation into Facebook is about their ‘pay or consent’ model, which is Facebook’s latest attempt to circumvent their GDPR obligations that consent should be freely given. It was clear that their move, even if it allows them to steer clear of GDPR (which is still very uncertain), it would create issues under the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

In the same press release the EC announces that Facebook Messenger is getting a 6 month extension of the period in which to comply with interoperability demands.

The Commission suspects that the measures put in place by these gatekeepers fall short of effective compliance of their obligations under the DMA. … The Commission has also adopted five retention orders addressed to Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Microsoft, asking them to retain documents which might be used to assess their compliance with the DMA obligations, so as to preserve available evidence and ensure effective enforcement.

European Commission

Bookmarked Internet of Things and Objects of Sociality (by Ton Zijlstra, 2008)

Fifteen years ago today I blogged this brainstorming exercise about how internet-connectivity for objects might make for different and new objects of sociality. A way to interact with our environment differently. Not a whole lot of that has happened, let alone become common. What has happened is IoT being locked up in device and mobile app pairings. Our Hue lights are tied to the Hue app, and if I’d let it collect e.g. behavioural data it would go to Philips first, not to me. A Ring doorbell (now disabled), our Sonos speakers are the same Those rigid pairings are a far cry from me seamlessly interacting with my environment. One exception is our Meet Je Stad sensor in the garden, as it runs on LoRaWan and the local citizen science community has the same access as I do to the data (and I run a LoRa gateway myself, adding another control point for me).

Incoming EU legislation may help to get more agency on this front. First and foremost, the Data Act when it is finished will make it mandatory that I can access the data I generate with my use of devices like those Hue lights and Sonos speakers and any others you and I may have in use (the data from the invertor on your solar panels for instance). And allow third parties to use that data in real time. A second relevant law I think is the Cyber Resilience Act, which regulates the cybersecurity of any ‘product with digital elements’ on the EU market, and makes it mandatory to provide additional (technical) documentation around that topic.

The internet of things, increases the role of physical objects as social objects enormously, because it adds heaps of context that can serve relationships. Physical objects always have been social objects, but only in their immediate physical context. … Making physical objects internet-aware creates a slew of possible new uses for it as social objects. And if you [yourself] add more sensors or actuators to a product (object hacks so to speak), the list grows accordingly.

Ton Zijlstra, 2008

ODRL, Open Digital Rights Language popped up twice this week for me and I don’t think I’ve been aware of it before. Some notes for me to start exploring.

Rights Expression Languages

Rights Expression Languages, RELs, provide a machine readable way to convey or transfer usage conditions, rights, restraints, granularly w.r.t. both actions and actors. This can then be added as metadata to something. ODRL is a rights expression language, and seems to be a de facto standard.

ODRL is a W3C recommendation since 2018, and thus part of the open web standards. ODRL has its roots in the ’00s and Digital Rights Management (DRM): the abhorred protections media companies added to music and movies, and now e-books, in ways that restrains what people can do with media they bought to well below the level of what was possible before and commonly thought part of having bought something.

ODRL can be expressed in JSON or RDF and XML. A basic example from Wikipedia looks like this:


{
"@context": "http://www.w3.org/ns/odrl.jsonld",
"uid": "http://example.com/policy:001",
"permission": [{
"target": "http://example.com/mysong.mp3",
"assignee": "John Doe",
"action": "play"
}]
}

In this JSON example a policy describes that example.com grants John permission to play mysong.

ODRL in the EU Data Space

In the shaping of the EU common market for data, aka the European common data space, it is important to be able to trace provenance and usage conditions for not just data sets, but singular pieces of data, as it flows through use cases, through applications and their output back into the data space.
This week I participated in a webinar by the EU Data Space Support Center (DSSC) about their first blueprint of data space building blocks, and for federation of such data spaces.

They propose ODRL as the standard to describe usage conditions throughout data spaces.

The question of enactment

It wasn’t the first time I talked about ODRL this week. I had a conversation with Pieter Colpaert. I reached out to get some input on his current view of the landscape of civic organisations active around the EU data spaces. We also touched upon his current work at the University of Gent. His research interest is on ODRL currently, specifically on enactment. ODRL is a REL, a rights expression language. Describing rights is one thing, enacting them in practice, in technology, processes etc. is a different thing. Next to that, how do you demonstrate that you adhere to the conditions expressed and that you qualify for using the things described?

For the EU data space(s) this part sounds key to me, as none of the data involved is merely part of a single clear interaction like in the song example above. It’s part of a variety of flows in which actors likely don’t directly interact, where many different data elements come together. This includes flows through applications that tap into a data space for inputs and outputs but are otherwise outside of it. Such applications are also digital twins, federated systems of digital twins even, meaning a confluence of many different data and conditions across multiple domains (and thus data spaces). All this removes a piece of data lightyears from the neat situation where two actors share it between them in a clearly described transaction within a single-faceted use case.

Expressing the commons

It’s one thing to express restrictions or usage conditions. The DSSC in their webinar talked a lot about business models around use cases, and ODRL as a means for a data source to stay in control throughout a piece of data’s life cycle. Luckily they stopped using the phrase ‘data ownership’ as they realised it’s not meaningful (and confusing on top of it), and focused on control and maintaining having a say by an actor.
An open question for me is how you would express openness and the commons in ODRL. A shallow search surfaces some examples of trying to express Creative Commons or other licenses this way, but none recent.

Openness, can mean an absence of certain conditions, although there may be some (like adding the same absence of conditions to re-shared material or derivative works), which is not the same as setting explicit permissions. If I e.g. dedicate something to the public domain, an image for instance, then there are no permissions for me to grant, as I’ve removed myself from that role of being able to give permission. Yet, you still want to express it to ensure that it is clear for all that that is what happened, and especially that it remains that way.

Part of that question is about the overlap and distinction between rights expressed in ODRL and authorship rights. You can obviously have many conditions outside of copyright, and can have copyright elements that may be outside of what can be expressed in RELs. I wonder how for instance moral authorship rights (that an author in some (all) European jurisdictions cannot do away with) can be expressed after an author has transferred/sold the copyrights to something? Or maybe, expressing authorship rights / copyrights is not what RELs are primarily for, as it those are generic and RELs may be meant for expressing conditions around a specific asset in a specific transaction. There have been various attempts to map all kinds of licenses to RELs though, so I need to explore more.

This is relevant for the EU common data spaces as my government clients will be actors in them and bringing in both open data and closed and unsharable but re-usable data, and several different shades in between. A range of new obligations and possibilities w.r.t. data use for government are created in the EU data strategy laws and the data space is where those become actualised. Meaning it should be possible to express the corresponding usage conditions in ODRL.

ODRL gaps?

Are there gaps in the ODRL standard w.r.t. what it can cover? Or things that are hard to express in it?
I came across one paper ‘A critical reflection on ODRL’ (PDF Kebede, Sileno, Van Engers 2020), that I have yet to read, that describes some of those potential weaknesses, based on use cases in healthcare and logistics. Looking forward to digging out their specific critique.

I’ve been involved in open data for about 15 years. Back then we had a vibrant European wide network of activists and civic organisations around open data, partially triggered by the first PSI Directive that was the European legal fundament for our call for more open government data.

Since 2020 a much wider and fundamental legal framework than the PSI Directive ever was is taking shape, with the Data Governance Act, Data Act, AI Regulation, Open Data Directive, High Value Data implementing regulation as building blocks. Together they create the EU single market for data, adding data as fourth element to the list of freedom of movement for people, products and capital within the EU. This will all take shape as the European common dataspace(s), built from a range of sectoral dataspaces.

In the past years I’ve been actively involved in these developments, currently helping large government data holders in the Netherlands interpret the new obligations and above all new opportunities for public service that result from all this.

Now that the dataspaces are slowly taking shape, what I find missing from most discussions and events is the voice of civic organisations and activists. It’s mostly IT companies and research institutions that are involved. While for the Commission social impact (climate, health, energy and agricultural transitions e.g.) is a key element in why they seek to implement these new laws, for most parties involved in the dataspaces that is less of a consideration, and economic and technological factors are more important. Not even government data holders themselves are represented much in how the European data space will turn out. Even though everyone single one of us and every public entity by default is a part of this common market.

I would like to strengthen the voice of civil society and activists in this area, to together influence the shape these dataspaces are taking. So that they are of use and value to us too. To use the new (legal) tools to strengthen the commons, to increase our agency.

Most of the old European open data network however over time has dissolved, as we all got involved in national level practical projects and the European network as a source of sense of belonging and strengthening each others commitment became less important. And we’ve moved on a good number of years, so many new people have come on to the scene, unconnected to that history, with new perspectives and new capabilities.

So the question is: who is active on these topics, from a civil society perspective, as activists? Who should be involved? What are the organisations, the events, that are relevant regionally, nationally, EU wide? Can we connect those existing dots: to share experiencs, examples, join our voices, pool our efforts?

Currently I’m doing a first scan of who is involved in which EU country, what type of events are visible, organisations that are active etc. Starting from my old network of a decade ago. I will share lists of what I find at Our Common Data Space.

Let me know if you count yourself as part of this European network. Let me know the relevant efforts you are aware of. Let me know which events you think bring together people likely to want to be involved.

I look forward to finding out about you!


Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw 2011. An example of the vibrancy of the European open data network, I called it the community’s ‘family christmas party’, at the time. Above the schedule of sessions created collectively by the participants, with many local initiatives and examples shared with the EU wide network. Below one of those sessions, on local policy making and open data.

It had been expected, Tweetdeck is now no longer available to me to follow Twitter topics and lists. Tweetdeck is only available to paying Twitter accounts. Earlier today it still worked for me as a non-paying account, now no longer. It went web-only a year ago before Twitter’s transition of ownership. Last month it became clear Tweetdeck would be limited to paying accounts. With Tweetdeck gone the last remaining shred of utility of Twitter for me dissolved.

Bookmarked Disinformation and its effects on social capital networks (Google Doc) by Dave Troy

This document by US journalist Dave Troy positions resistance against disinformation not as a matter of factchecking and technology but as one of reshaping social capital and cultural network topologies. I plan to read this, especially the premises part looks interesting. Some upfront associations are with Valdis Krebs’ work on the US democratic / conservative party divide where he visualised it based on cultural artefacts, i.e. books people bought (2003-2008), to show spheres and overlaps, and with the Finnish work on increasing civic skills which to me seems a mix of critical crap detection skills woven into a social/societal framework. Networks around a belief or a piece of disinformation for me also point back to what I mentioned earlier about generated (and thus fake) texts, how attempts to detect such fakes usually center on the artefact not on the richer tapestry of information connections (last 2 bullet points and final paragraph) around it (I called it provenance and entanglement as indicators of authenticity recently, entanglement being the multiple ways it is part of a wider network fabric). And there’s the more general notion of Connectivism where learning and knowledge are situated in networks too.

The related problems of disinformation, misinformation, and radicalization have been popularly misunderstood as technology or fact-checking problems, but this ignores the mechanism of action, which is the reconfiguration of social capital. By recasting these problems as one problem rooted in the reconfiguration of social capital and network topology, we can consider solutions that might maximize public health and favor democracy over fascism …

Dave Troy