Early last year I wrote about how I don’t track you here, but others might. Third party sites whose content I re-use here by embedding them have the ability to track you to a certain extent. Earlier I already stopped using Slideshare and Scribd completely as a consequence, self-hosting my slide decks from now on.

For photos and videos the story is slightly different. Where it’s not essential that a video can be viewed inside my posting, I simply link to it with a screenshot, thus avoiding that YouTube or Vimeo tracks you on my page. In other cases I still embed the video.

For images I have been using Flickr since 2005. Back then uploading images to my hosting account quickly depleted the available storage space, and Flickr always was a good way to avoid that. I have and am a paying customer of Flickr, even through the years it was also available for free. Flickr is my online third place storage of images (now over 26k), as well as the place where I share those images for others to freely re-use (under Creative Commons licenses).

Embedding my Flickr photos here provides them with the opportunity to track views to the embedded images. The 2005 scarcity in storage space on my web host package is no longer a concern, whereas reducing readers’ exposure to tracking in whatever shape has become more important.

So from the start of the summer vacation I have stopped using Flickr embeds, and all images are and will be hosted on my webserver. The images do link to their counterparts on Flickr. In the case of my own images to point to re-usable versions of the photo, and the rest of my images. In the case of other people’s images I re-use to point to the source and its author. As before I will keep using Flickr to store and share photos.

Over the almost two decades of blogging I’ve embedded hundreds of images from Flickr, and I haven’t replaced those yet. Over time I will. It will become part of my daily routine of checking old postings made on the same day as today.

It makes ‘I don’t track you (but others here might)’ tilt some more towards ‘I don’t track you’ period.

The Irish Data Protection Authority (DPA), has issued a decision on a 2018 investigation into WhatsApps data processing. It concerned at first glance two aspects, one the uploading of WhatsApp user’s contact lists, and the retention of non-user (hashed) phone numbers, as well as the information exchange between WhatsApp and its parent company Facebook. WhatsApp argued they were not a data controller in this case, but their users were, and they were merely processing data, but that defense failed. (I think the language used by WhatsApp itself, the word ‘user’, gives away the actual locus of power quite clearly.)

The An Coimisiúm um Chosaint Sonraí, Irish Data Protection Commission, issued a fine of 225 million Euro’s. This seems right up there at the top of the potential fine range of 4% of global turnover in the last year (2020).

It is good to see the Irish DPA finally coming down with a decision. With enforcement of the GDPR starting mid 2018, a range of complaints and investigations landed on the Irish DPA’s plate, as several large tech companies maintain their EU presence in Ireland. The slow pace of the Irish DPA in handling these complaints has been itself a source of complaints. With this decision on the WhatsApp investigation there now finally is some visible movement.

Also see the earlier announcement concerning Amazon receiving a 746 million fine from the Luxembourg DPA.

Open Street Map has the option to add the location, type and viewing angle of surveillance cameras.
Peter wrote about adding the cameras in his neighbourhood to the map, and says ‘we didn’t have to walk far‘ to add 47 cameras, including his own door bell. Cameras are added to Open Street Map but not shown in the usual map interfaces. The Open Street Map wiki does list a number of projects that render this information. These projects have different areas of focus and different selection criteria for information included it seems. One of them that seems most comprehensive is Surveillance Under Surveillance.

It shows about 3500 cameras listed in the Netherlands, surely a tiny fraction of the total.

And only a handful in my city, none in my neighbourhood. Again, a low number far from reality.

This reminds of a game that, I think Kars Alfrink and/or Alper Çuğun conceptualised, where you had to reach a destination in Amsterdam avoiding the views of the cameras along the way. It also reminds me how a former colleague had some basic camera detection device in his car years ago that became useless as surveillance cameras at private homes increased in numbers. It detected not just speeding camera signals, but also all those other cameras. At some point driving down a residential street, especially in more affluent neighbourhoods, the warning noises the device made were constant.

I’ll be on the lookout for cams in our area. There are I know two in our court yard (one on our frontdoor, not connected though, and one on a neighbour’s frontdoor).

Since the start of this year I am actively tracking the suite of new European laws being proposed on digitisation and data. Together they are the expression into law of the geopolitical position the EU is taking on everything digital and data, and all the proposed laws follow the same logic and reasoning. Taken together they shape how Europe wants to use the potential and benefits of digitisation and data use, including specifically for a range of societal challenges, while defending and strengthening citizen rights. Of course other EU legal initiatives in parallel sometimes point in different directions (e.g. EU copyright regulations leading to upload filters, and the attempts at backdooring end-to-end encryption in messaging apps for mass surveillance), but that is precisely why to me this suite of regulations stands out. Where other legal initiatives often seem to stand on their own, and bear the marks of lobbying and singular industry interests, this group of measures all build on the same logic and read internally consistent as well as an expression of an actual vision.

My work is to help translate the proposed legal framework to how it will impact and provide opportunity to large Dutch government data holders and policy departments, and to build connections and networks between all kinds of stakeholders around relevant societal issues and related use cases. This to shape the transition from the data provision oriented INSPIRE program (sharing and harmonising geo-data across the EU), to a use needs and benefits oriented approach (reasoning from a societal issue to solve towards with a network of relevant parties towards the data that can provide agency for reaching a solution). My work follows directly from the research I did last year to establish a list of EU wide high value data sets to be opened, where I dived deeply into all government data and its governance concerning earth observation, environment and meteorology, while other team members did the same for geo-data, statistics, company registers, and mobility.

All the elements in the proposed legal framework will be decided upon in the coming year or so, and enter into force probably after a 2 year grace period. So by 2025 this should be in place. In the meantime many organisations, as well as public funding, will focus on already implementing elements of it even while nothing is mandatory yet. As with the GDPR, the legal framework once in place will also be an export mechanism of the notions and values expressed in it to the rest of the world. This as compliance is tied to EU market access and having EU citizens as clients wherever they are.

One element of the framework is already in place, the GDPR. The newly proposed elements mimic the fine structures of the GDPR for non-compliance.
The new elements take the EU Digital Compass and EU Digital Rights and Principles for which a public consultation is now open until 2 September as a starting point.

The new proposed laws are:

Digital Markets Act (download), which applies to all dominant market parties, in terms of platform providers as well as physical network providers, that de facto are gatekeepers to access by both citizens and market entities. It aims for a digital unified market, and sets requirements for interoperability, ‘service neutrality’ of platforms, and to prevent lock-in. Proposed in November 2020.

Digital Services Act (download), applies to both gatekeepers (see previous point) and other digital service providers that act as intermediaries. Aims for a level playing field and diversity of service providers, protection of citizen rights, and requires transparency and accountability mechanisms. Proposed in November 2020.

AI Regulatory Proposal (download), does not regulate AI technology, but the EU market access of AI applications and usage. Market access is based on an assessment of risk to citizen rights and to safety (think of use in vehicles etc). It’s a CE mark for AI. It periodically updates a list of technologies considered within scope, and a list of areas that count as high risk. With increasing risk more stringent requirements on transparency, accountability and explainability are set. Creates GDPR style national and European authorities for complaints and enforcement. Responsibilities are given to the producer of an application, distributors as well as users of such an application. It’s the world’s first attempt of regulating AI and I think it is rather elegant in tying market access to citizen rights. Proposed in April 2021.

Data Governance Act (download), makes government held data that isn’t available under open data regulations available for use (but not for sharing), introduces the European dataspace (created from multiple sectoral data spaces), mandates EU wide interoperable infrastructure around which data governance and standardisation practices are positioned, and coins the concept of data altruism (meaning you can securely share your personal data or company confidential data for specific temporary use cases). This law aims at making more data available for usage, if not for (public) sharing. Proposed November 2020.

Data Act, currently open for public consultation until 2 September 2021. Will introduce rules around the possibilities the Data Governance Act creates, will set conditions and requirements for B2B cross-border and cross-sectoral data sharing, for B2G data sharing in the context of societal challenges, and will set transparency and accountability requirements for them. To be proposed towards the end of 2021.

Open Data Directive, which sets the conditions and requirements for open government data (which build on the national access to information regulations in the member states, hence the Data Governance Act as well which does not build on national access regimes). The Open Data Directive was proposed in 2018 and decided in 2019, as the new iteration of the preceding Public Sector Information directives. It should have been transposed into national law by 1 July 2021, but not all MS have done so (in fact the Netherlands has just recently started the work). An important element in this Directive is EU High Value Data list, which will make publication of open data through APIs and machine readable bulk download mandatory for all EU member states for the data listed. As mentioned above, last year I was part of the research team that did the impact assessments and proposed the policy options for that list (I led the research for earth observation, environment and meteorology). The implementation act for the EU High Value Data list will be published in September, and I expect it to e.g. add an open data requirement to most of the INSPIRE themes.

Most of the elements in this list are proposed as Acts, meaning they will have power of law across the EU as soon as they are agreed between the European Parliament, the EU council of heads of government and the European Commission and don’t require transposition into national law first. Also of note is that currently ongoing revisions and evaluations of connected EU directives (INSPIRE, ITS etc.) are being shaped along the lines of the Acts mentioned above. This means that more specific data oriented regulations closer to specific policy domains are already being changed in this direction. Similarly policy proposals such as the European Green Deal are very clearly building on the EU digital and data strategies to achieving and monitoring those policy ambitions. All in all it will be a very interesting few years in which this legal framework develops and gets applied, as it is a new fundamental wave of changes after the role the initial PSI Directive and INSPIRE directive had 15 to 20 years ago, with a much wider scope and much more at stake.


The geopolitics of digitisation and data. Image ‘Risk Board Game’ by Rob Bertholf, license CC BY

My first reading of the yet to be published EU Regulation on the European Approach for Artificial Intelligence, based on a leaked version, I find pretty good. A logical approach, laid out in the 92 recitals preceding the articles, based on risk assessment, where erosion of human and citizen rights or risk to key infrastructure and services and product safety is deemed high risk by definition. High risk means more strict conditions, following some of the building blocks of the GDPR, also when it comes to governance and penalties. Those conditions are tied to being allowed to put a product on the market, and are tied to how they perform in practice (not just how they’re intended). I find that an elegant combination, risk assessment based on citizen rights and critical systems, and connected to well-worn mechanisms of market access and market monitoring. It places those conditions on both producers and users, as well as other parties involved along the supply chain. The EU approach to data and AI align well this way it seems, and express the European geopolitical proposition concerning data and AI, centered on civic rights, into codified law. That codification, like the GDPR, is how the EU exports its norms to elsewhere.

The text should be published soon by the EC, and I’ll try a write-up in more detail then.