A UK debate on net neutrality could happen post-Brexit – we must be ready | The Friday Article

Pizzas, memes and American talk show hosts have all tried their hand at explaining one of the most complicated issues facing the world of technology today. On Wednesday, organisations staged a ‘day of action’ for Net Neutrality Day, showing the world what it would be like if Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had the power to prioritise certain traffic or websites over others.

Finger browsing app icons
It’s time we started talking about net neutrality across the pond.

Watching the debate from across the pond, UK citizens breathed a sigh of relief knowing that net neutrality has been enshrined into EU law. That is, until the moment they realised that we voted to leave the bloc just over a year ago. Now, just like other EU laws, the regulation that allows us to enjoy online content regardless of whom our ISP is hangs in the balance.

Cue another piece of political news which did the rounds yesterday which could put all of this at risk: the government’s not-so-great Repeal Bill. If it passes in the state that it’s in now (somewhat unlikely), then ministers will be granted the power to pass secondary legislation. Whilst it’s nice that the Conservatives want to cut Parliament’s workload (dealing with over 50,000 pieces of legislation sounds like quite the hassle), doing so in a way which avoids the scrutiny of MPs has opposition parties raising their eyebrows – and rightly so.

Even if the Tories decide not to amend the regulation without scrutiny, a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement, however flawed it may be, could see the net neutrality law scrapped. Regardless of the fact there was a ‘voluntary system’ prior to this law, given Theresa May’s calls ‘to regulate cyberspace’ and the passing of the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’, any opportunity to degrade internet freedoms will most likely be taken by the Tories.

We need to act now. With the latest data from the Office for National Statistics revealing that 99% of 16 to 34 year olds are recent internet users (compared to just 41% of adults aged 75 or over), a British debate on net neutrality could very well be led by the younger generation.

It would certainly be a powerful campaign from our young people, too. The Conservative Party has been left battered and bruised after the youth vote crushed her arrogance (not to mention her majority) after last month’s general election. Tory MPs scrapping net neutrality – threatening young people’s Netflix subscriptions, social media access and main campaigning platform – would be a very, very bad idea.
One must not fall into stereotypes when discussing the internet, but as much as the youth campaign should challenge any decision to allow ISP’s to control the viewing of online content, it must also ensure that older people understand the issues associated with this. Net neutrality is an issue which affects all of us. Even if an individual is offline, they will be indirectly affected by an unfair Internet.

The possibility of a second general election has left everyone in a political limbo, with a degree of uncertainty about what’s coming next. Depending on what side of the political spectrum people identify, it either fills them with hope or dread. Either way, for the sake of our online society, the surge of young people being interested in politics must never fade.

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Messenger Day: A wrong step in the trend of multi-purpose apps | The Friday Article

Snapchat took a risk in 2013. The launch of Stories was one that some people weren’t impressed with when it first started out, but it has since become one of the app’s key features. There’s something about Snapchat’s multitude of features – text chat, photo chat and stories – which doesn’t deviate from its core message. This is in contrast to Facebook Messenger, which launched a worryingly similar version of ‘stories’ – called Messenger Day – on its app today.

Photo: Facebook Messenger.

It’s been dubbed a ‘clone’ by some tech websites, and it’s likely that not everyone will approve of the new update. Granted, people had a similar reaction to Instagram, but it’s slowly being warmed to.

What made Instagram Stories ‘work’ (something to be debated) was the fact that Stories was on-brand. The app has always been about sharing photos and videos as a snapshot of your day. It works. Messenger – as the name suggests – has always been about messages on the most basic of terms. For a long time, it’s been through GIFs, photos, texts and videos. The app has always been grounded to its role as a basic messaging tool. To add something which is about sharing photos and videos ‘as they happen’ is a bizarre and wrong step to take for the app.

Plus, it doesn’t compete against Instagram, since they are both owned by Facebook. Whilst Zuckerberg’s platform has the most users (1.86 billion people compared to Snapchat’s 160 million daily users), why would Facebook introduce a feature on Messenger which is already available on Instagram?

There’s a right way to jump on a technological bandwagon, and this isn’t it. Breaking away from the aforementioned ‘core’ definition is brave, but it won’t work when the industry is all about creating a multi-tool app with one sole purpose.

Why forced comedy means it’s the end of the Vine | The Friday Article

Given how information is being consumed as quickly as possible, a six-second video sharing app known as Vine sounded like a fitting addition to the social media industry when it was introduced in 2013. Yet, with such a strict time constraint, creators were desperate to produce content which could be the next viral hint (‘do it for the Vine’ became a phrase which mocked and tapped into this notion). The app then became overpopulated with pranks, wacky dancing videos and slapstick comedy. Vine had its moments – with personalities appearing over its three-year lifespan – but everyone knows comedy cannot be forced. Therefore, it’s no surprise that yesterday, Twitter took the decision to discontinue Vine.

vine
The announcement that Vine was to be discontinued was announced yesterday.

In a blog post in January 2013 by Vine’s co-founder, Dom Hofmann, he shared his belief that “constraint inspires creativity”. Twitter’s 140-character limit works because we can be creative with words regardless of restraints. Video, on the other hand, is much harder to limit without impacting creativity. We can use sentences and paragraphs of various lengths to communicate a message via. text, but when most videos explore stunning scenery or convey an important message, six seconds is simply not enough.

Vine tapped into a branch of social media which was on the rise. Snapchat’s ten-second messaging encouraged a new, fast-paced way of communicating, and looped GIFs have always lingered on the Internet. Twitter’s video app had to offer something different, so it messed around with looped videos with an even tighter limit of six seconds. Whilst it was popular in the short run, people soon returned to Snapchats and GIFs, with Vines only appearing should they be a massive viral hit.

There’s something to learn from Vine’s demise. Some mediums cannot be restrained – certainly not to six seconds. Twitter’s magic number of 140 just works and Snapchat’s success comes down to having those four extra seconds.

They know their limits; you can only restrict communication to a certain extent.

Instagram Stories: The battle for being the go-to photo app is on | The Friday Article

Instagram Stories has started a new battle for social media apps. For years, the battle between Facebook and Twitter has dominated tech news, with the two websites becoming more similar each day. Now, the attention shifts towards a new type of communication and the latest trend – photo and video chats. In an attempt to adhere to the latest trends, Instagram has sacrificed its individuality. Whilst users want to be able to choose between social media platforms, they also want the one app to serve a specific purpose. It’s freedom of choice versus the desire for a social media monopoly. Twitter may be winning against Facebook as the platform for text-based communication, but now there must be one go-to app for sharing photos and videos. It’s Instagram vs. Snapchat.

Photo: https://www.instagram-brand.com
Photo: https://www.instagram-brand.com

Instagram’s new update exposed a conflicting desire in society: we all want a variety of apps for the collectibility aspect, but at the same time, we like all our needs being served in the form of one app. We want both a collection and an individual service. It is impossible to have both, and now that Instagram Stories is worryingly similar Snapchat, users are faced with a dilemma: to which social media platform do they remain loyal to?

“It seems like it’s lost touch with the spirit of innovation and creation” said YouTuber and online creator Hank Green in an Instagram story posted earlier this week. His views tapped into a larger issue in the social media industry today. It’s essentially a landscape where apps can either copy each other, or be left behind. Rather than tapping into new and exciting ideas, in order to continue their takeover of the specific market, social media websites are forced to mimic competitors. It’s not a great way for these apps to act, and leaves social media users torn between two or more great apps.

Aside from users questioning their loyalty to certain mobile applications, another dilemma comes in the form of their requests being ignored. Twitter users long for an edit button, and those who use Instagram want to see the old logo and a chronological timeline make a comeback. It’s concerning that instead of making these changes, they choose to mimic their rivals. If they are doing this out of fear for losing users, then listening to their demands would lead to them continuing to use the service, right?

Who will come out on top? I don’t know. However, whilst being the go-to app for videos and photos is an important thing in terms of keeping up with the market, listening to the demands of the public is one of the best ways to procure loyal and regular users. It’s about time that we determined the trends and updates for some of our favourite apps.

Liam

Apple’s iOS 10 goes back to basics, but lacks a monumental change | The Friday Article

It may just be down to me being a fan of milestones, but Apple’s iOS 10 – revealed at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) – is a little underwhelming. For the tenth upgrade to iPhone devices, I expected substantial upgrades, as opposed to tweaking individual apps. The big change in design happened with iOS 8, meaning there wasn’t anything too exciting for Apple to boast about this time, in terms of the user interface.

iOS 10
The full, public release of iOS 10 is expected in the Autumn. Photo: iphonedigital on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

Instead, iOS 10’s most exciting upgrade is the changes to Messages – suggesting that this update to the iPhone’s operating system is one which focusses on the main functions of a phone: calls and texts. Of course, Apple revealed changes to Apple Music, Siri and Notes, but it’s these changes to messaging which has defined this year’s new operating system, and dominated reports on tech websites.

Aside from the new plans for iMessage, I like to think that iOS 10 offers something exciting for the deaf community. The new upgrade will see voicemail messages being transcribed and read, rather than being listened to. It can certainly help those who struggle to hear phone calls on the phone, and may provide an alternative for profoundly deaf people as well.

Emojis for iPhone was one of the main steps for Apple in terms of making messaging more personal. Text messaging has always been problematic when it comes to communicating emotions or tone of voice. Sarcasm is usually implied through italics, but whilst the option to italicise text is available on Notes, it’s yet to make the move to iMessage.

Facial expressions were communicated with emojis, and now bubble effects will help communicate excitement and sympathy. On top of that, hand-drawn messages also add personality to texts. Now, it’s about more than just the message.

It’s also worth adding that there are some changes I hope to see in iOS 10. As a Mac owner as well as an iPhone user, I’m a bit confused with the Calendar app. Whilst on the MacBook, users can set custom appointment times such as 10:21, events in the iPhone app can only be set at five-minute intervals. It would be great if there was some continuity on that front.

Apple’s tenth upgrade to the operating system is one which centres on a key function of any phone – messaging – but lacks something substantial to define such a milestone.

Liam

Deafinitely Challenging: Phones are like Marmite

I rely on my phone a lot. Nowadays, smartphones go beyond just phone calls and texts, with a variety of applications on offer. With that in mind, smartphones are an interesting piece of technology for deaf people. They can make our lives easier in some aspects, but at the same time, it can make it just that little bit harder.

Smartphones can benefit the lives of deaf people, but they also have their disadvantages. Source: NOGRAN s.r.o on Flickr
Smartphones can benefit the lives of deaf people, but they also have their disadvantages. Source: NOGRAN s.r.o on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/legalcode.

For most deaf people, we are unable to use the phone to make or receive calls. Fortunately, my iPhone has a setting which amplifies mobile calls, but I’ve often struggled with landlines because the sound doesn’t quite enter my hearing aid. At home, whenever someone rang ‘the home phone’, I would have to go to the trouble of taking out my hearing aids before answering the phone. The only problem then is that my hearing is reduced because I don’t have my aids in.

But whether it’s on my mobile – where I can hear a little better – or on landline, you also have issues regarding the quality of the call itself. For example, if someone calls me from a noisy bar, or whilst in a car, then the background noise can interfere and I struggle to hear what is being said. For that reason, I prefer text when possible. As I briefly mentioned in a previous post, it is a universal way to talk to people.

Thankfully, when it comes to landlines, I have since been able to get hold of an amazing telephone adaptor. You can read my review here, but it really does work wonders for me. Technology can be incredibly useful for deaf people.

This brings me on to the title of this post: Phones are like Marmite. For deaf people, you either love them or hate them. Whilst I love the hearing aid setting on my iPhone and the Glide app (a video messaging service), I struggle with landlines and my mobile’s audio quality can dip from time to time. Basically, what I meant by phone’s being like Marmite is that they both carry advantages and disadvantages for the deaf community – but, then again, everyone within the deaf culture is different.

What do you think? Can writing messages down help break down barriers? Comment below!

Liam

Frequency Festival: What are our digital rights?

Yesterday the first night of Lincoln’s Frequency Festival opened with an interesting discussion into our digital rights and freedom. With the city celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta this year, the festival’s first event asked: what would the digital Magna Carta would look like?

Speakers at the debate included Professor Raul Espejo (Director-General of the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics), Wendy Grossman (a writer, folksinger and journalist) and Richard Barbrook (senior lecturer at the University of Westminster). The event also saw contributions from the audience.

Admittedly, I was under the impression that the event would be a debate, when it was more a series of three lectures from the main speakers. All three of them – Professor Espejo, Dr Barbrook and Ms Grossman – all presented different views on the proposed digital bill of rights. Whilst it was interesting to see three different perspectives, I was particularly interested in Professor Espejo’s talk about Cyberfolk and Algedonic Meters.

Basically, the discussion was around a data loop between the people and the state. The meter itself was for an ‘inclusive democracy’ and enabled the public to “[respond] to what policy makers were doing” (Espejo, 2015). In particular, this would be the public saying that they liked a particular debate or proposal.

At the same time, government discussions were being broadcast to the masses. However, at the top of this loop (or dichotomy, if you will), the state are overwhelmed with public data and are unable to handle the data correctly or ethically. According to Espejo (2015), the “extreme proliferation of data today is misunderstood” and proposed that “digital abuses of freedom and privacy […] need to be replaced by a society and individually fair ‘variety engineering” – the term variety referring to Ashby’s law of requisite variety.

This abuse of freedom and privacy at the top is something which I discussed previously in my post about the Channel 4 series, Hunted. After writing this post, one of the key questions I raised, which I wanted to explore further, was whether we as individuals have the right to complain about breaches of privacy when – through social media sites for example – we publicly and freely volunteer that information?

It’s a question I still don’t think that I have the answer to. But, having said that, one of the points raised about this issue was the fact that, alongside the state not knowing how to handle the mass amounts of data, the individual does not know how to properly volunteer data. In particular, someone does not know how that data could be used to benefit themselves, or others in the future. An example which Wendy Grossman gave was the first college-goers at Harvard who used the early version of Facebook, without knowing that what they post may one day be available on Google.

In that respect, I think we, as individuals, need to learn about digital footprints in detail. But in terms of a Digital Bill of Rights, perhaps it would be wise to place regulations on the individual to prevent them from volunteering certain data. If not that, then we should be made aware of what that data could mean in the future, or where it could be made available (like a Harvard student’s Facebook post being visible on Google, for instance – as mentioned above).

Once again, it comes back to the line between public and private in terms of technology. If a Digital Bill of Rights were to be drafted, then it’s likely that the main defence for an accusation of a privacy breach would be that the data in question is readily available to the public. An interesting example of this is a piece of work by Liz Sterry called ‘Kay’s Blog’. This, which was part of a Furtherfield exhibition entitled ‘Being Social’, was a project which saw Sterry reconstruct the bedroom of a blogger (named Kay) – with the information being obtained solely from her blog posts.

Admittedly, I myself would find this a rather large invasion of privacy, especially when it goes on to appear in a public exhibition. But as mentioned beforehand, if this information has been made public, then there is no defence. To be honest, should the terms and conditions of social media platforms not cover this already, then a Digital Bill of Rights should include an agreement. This agreement would state that as much as an individual would consider information published online as private, everyone who uses the Internet today knows that it is a public hub for creativity and information. For that reason, the Digital Bill should remind individuals that information obtained about them from social media cannot be seen as a breach of privacy. However, I do think that there are some exceptions when it comes to state surveillance (see my Hunted post for more information).

Similarly, this can be an issue when it comes to copyright and intellectual property. Yes, whilst most cases are easily identified and breaches of copyright can often be dealt with, it’s a piece of legislation which tries cover as much of the ever-expanding Internet as possible.

In a somewhat similar example, the music industry has been impacted by illegal downloading for a while now. Admittedly, the problem has escalated to the point that enforcing a legislation would simply not work, but that just demonstrates how hard it is to place laws on a rapidly changing entity such as the Internet. In terms of intellectual property, how can we stop the majority from breaching copyright, rather than the few?

Finally, if we were to consider the web as being this massive creative pool for the public, then who owns the Internet? This was a question raised by an audience member and it certainly was an interesting one. In the past, control over the Internet has turned into a bizarre free-for-all, with companies and the government both being eager to regulate or control aspects of technology. For example, a recent campaign to promote net neutrality talked about stopping Internet Service Providers from restricting Internet access to certain sites or content. A more recent example is Home Secretary Theresa May’s Draft Communications Data Bill (dubbed ‘the snooper’s charter’), where the government plans to gain more powers in terms of investigation and surveillance.

However, what we don’t have is rules or laws put in place by the public. If a Digital Bill of Rights was to be introduced, then how could it be made law? Who would enforce it? How could it be maintained, updated and enforced on every single online citizen?

Whilst governments and companies may be trying to control certain aspects of technology and the web, the Internet will always belong to ‘the people’. In a sense, the Internet is a Marxist hub. If we are to call it that, then of course one of the main issues is that the promotion of Marxism is contradictory – in order to enforce Marxism you need a leader.

So, in that case, how can a Digital Bill of Rights for the digital citizen and ‘the people’ be enforced – and by whom? How could the bill be maintained and updated?

Liam