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Digital Digest – 3 September

Maxim Hopman

In this week’s Digital Digest, we look at the Home Office’s proposed updates to the use of surveillance cameras, and the challenges facing low Earth orbit satellite broadband systems.

We then take a look at big tech, with the news WhatsApp has been hit with a mega fine for breaching privacy regulations, big tech’s second attempt at capitalising on pandemic-tech, and finally, Afghan nationals continue to fear retaliation over data linking them to foreign entities.

CLOSER TO HOME

UK revamps surveillance camera code

The Home Office is proposing to update its guidance on surveillance cameras for the first time since 2013 – this marks a crucial divergence in tech policy between the EU and UK in the wake of Brexit. The new Code of Practice will cover the use of CCTV by law enforcement and local authorities, specifically looking at live facial recognition which has proved a controversial measure.

Concerns in relation to facial recognition technology point to the risk regarding data protection and the intrusive nature of surveillance cameras. This is particularly salient following the leaked footage of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock with questions emerging in terms of access to footage, secure storage, and ownership of surveillance tech companies.

As public awareness grows surrounding the prevalence and use of facial recognition capabilities, experts have said that the code should put particular emphasis on explaining how images are used and take into account the potential for any negative disproportionate impact on minorities.

Why pigeons mean peril for satellite broadband

The University of Surrey cyber-security expert, Professor Alan Woodward, has highlighted the impact of ‘pesky pigeons’ in the outages in the rollout of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet system.

In areas where fibre broadband connection is something to dream of, due to poor infrastructure and accessibility, low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband systems could be a crucial step in establishing stable internet connection. However, disruption in the form of pigeons mistaking the satellite dishes for ‘modern bird baths’, as well as shortages of chips and liquid oxygen fuel have affected the initial rollout of Musk’s Starlink.

Starlink, which is admittedly still in its beta phase, is but one of many projects aiming to use LEO systems to improve internet connectivity. The service overall seems to be encountering a number of challenges aside from its pigeon peril, including cost, potential for satellite collisions in orbit, and interface capacity. It is clear users in areas affected by slow broadband will be waiting a while for a solution to their internet problems.

BIG TECH

WhatsApp hit with EUR225m privacy fine

WhatsApp has been smacked with the largest ever fine from the Irish Data Protection Commission, and the second highest under EU GDPR rules, for breaching privacy regulations. The only other tech company which has been fined more is Amazon, who were fined EUR746m earlier this year by Luxembourg’s regulator in relation to breaking GDPR rules.

The fine comes three years after an investigation into WhatsApp’s transparency regarding its handling of information. Key issues in the investigation included whether users were given enough information in relation to the processing of their data and WhatsApp’s privacy policies.

So far eight countries, including Germany, France and Italy have objected to the Irish DPC’s decision. Furthermore, due to the planned appeal by the tech giant, it will be years before the fine is ever paid.

Big Tech failed with contact tracing. Can it do better with vaccine passport apps?

Looking to the future it is becoming increasingly apparent that vaccine passports are going to be de rigueur. Big smartphone companies like Apple, Samsung and Google are capitalising on the trend by making it easy for their customers to demonstrate their vaccination status through apps linked to health agencies. Given the perceived ‘failure’ of contact tracing apps over the past year, industry insiders are debating whether this is Big Tech’s chance to showcase its prowess.

However, concerns surrounding data sharing and protection are hurdles which need to be addressed, and soon. With privacy increasingly becoming a hot topic of discussion with legislators and corporations alike, it is imperative that these companies hit the nail on the head if they want to make waves in this fast-paced environment.

Afghanistan: The biometric, social, and business data the Taliban could use to target left-behind Afghans

In the wake of the ‘Western’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, there are mounting concerns the Taliban will have access to US military and Afghan government databases containing personal information of Afghan civilians on a vast scale.

During the US occupation, Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment (HIIDE) was used to log the biometric data of those who assisted US forces. This is but one example of the many biometric databases which foreign and domestic entities have used over the past few years. The implications are potentially life-threatening to those with personal information on the databases, especially considering reports that members of the Taliban are going house-to-house looking for those with ‘foreign affiliations’.

This is the latest technological worry facing Afghan nationals following reports that citizens have been scrambling to erase their previous lives from social media for fear of punishment by the Taliban.

ALSO IN THE NEWS

  1. A 12-year-old boy has made roughly £290,000 over the school holidays from selling a series of pixelated artworks, dubbed “Weird Whales”, as NFTs. See here.

  2. China has banned under-18s from playing online games for more than an hour a day, this follows the state media outlets branding the biggest online gaming companies’ products as “spiritual opium” and “electronic drugs”. See here.

  3. Zoom shares have taken a tumble in after-hours trading following reports of slowed growth due to the return of workers in the office. See here.

  4. A software company believes it has found a solution to the damaging impact of ‘heading’ in football using virtual reality. See here.

  5. The Economist has imagined a scenario from 2028 where smartphones are built around health-monitoring features and operate as personal health assistants. See here.

WORTH A READ

  1. BBC News: Twitter tests safety mode feature to silence abuse

  2. FT: Why Big Tech should embrace the ‘right to repair’ revolution

  3. Wired: Data shows the true productivity cost of the city exodus

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