Just a PUR pack of BS !

Coincidentally, as the report on Internet policy by Frank La Rue is just out, expressing “deep concerns” about “graduated response” and disconnecting users from the Internet (explicitly referring to France HADOPI and UK Digital Economy Act 2010), France is launching another communication campaign with a set of Pathetic clips going live this month and la new Label called “PUR” standing for “Promotion des Usages Responsables” (promotion of responsible uses).

I just don’t get it! Not only has the campaign cost over 3 M € for communicating on a law that is increasingly being recognized as going against a fundamental human right, but much worse : this is a deceptive message playing on negativity instead of the initially planed positive communication as pointed out by Numerama.

Several fun remixed deviated PUR labels have already appeared, check them out on Google Images among the original ones. Some are really creative!

There is urgency in addressing these global issues in a responsible and sustainable way.

Internet Access : Finally A Fundamental Human Right according to UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue

Borrowing from the phrase of Armstrong: That’s one small step for the UN, one giant leap for the Internet!

Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression released his report (22 pages well worth reading) submitted to the 17th session of the Human Rights Council on the “key trends and challenges to the right of all individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through the Internet“.

His conclusions and recommendations are clear and call for no further argument. In a nutshell : Internet Access is a fundamental human right. Now maybe we can move on with the real discussions and issues on how to creatively address some of these global problems currently hampered by ridiculous territorially bound legislations that have been hijacked by lobbies and industry led pressure groups.

So long HADOPI, ACTA, Protect IP Act, etc. Long live the Internet ! and let’s get to work, we’ve got a responsible digital society to build… Time for Responsibility 2.0 : towards A new World Order ?

Swiss (ICT) foresight 2025 : BRACE for hard landing !

I’m really confused today (to say the least) re-reading the 2025 outlook for Swiss federal policy foresight document released recently.
Paying careful attention at the parts dealing with ICT, namely : pp 16-17 and challenge #10, pp 58-59, I couldn’t help feeling totally depressed.
Every point is presented stressing threats rather than opportunities or challenges to address and tackle.
Here are a few examples (based on the French version) :

  • technological developments and innovation surges are expected in a variety of domains. (“poussées d’innovation”) as if it were a childhood disease or fever to be controlled.
  • “Cette évolution fulgurante ne semble pas vouloir s’arrêter…” sounds like disappointment!
  • “La tendance à l’interconnexion des systèmes ouvre la perspective de gains d’efficacité réels sur les plans économique et écologique, mais elle risque d’accroître les situations de dépendance et de vulnérabilité ; les systèmes et les réseaux TIC sont en effet de plus en plus sophistiqués, et donc de plus en plus fragiles, et la société est de plus en plus tributaire de ces systèmes.” : should we understand that we should disengage and rollback ?
  • “Il a une dimension écologique, les ordinateurs modernes consommant une grande quantité d’électricite” : okay could we eventually balance that with the added value for society and the progress in green IT ?
  • “L’accélération du progrès technologique recèle toutefois des dangers…” : more of the same threats…
  • “Enfin, les questions du respect des droits d’auteur et de la protection des données se posent de plus en plus souvent.” : is that “news” ? Should we shut down the Swiss Internet ? Please see some of the talks of Prof. Larry Lessig who gave another brilliant talk yesterday at CERN.
  • etc.

Is it really a sustainable option not to embrace technological innovation and progress ? Can we afford to have such skeptical digital public policies for our future ? Shouldn’t foresight stress opportunities for action rather than threats leading to status quo ?

Remembering news from last September (see Le Temps, 14/12/2010, “La Suisse n’utiliserait pas assez les nouvelles technologies”)
“A wakeup call” facing the “collaps” of Switzerland in the 2010 Digital Economy Ranking (The Economist) dropping to 19 (from 12 in 2009) vigorously said Isabelle Welton (IBM Country General Manager for Switzerland)

This was further amplified by Doris Leuthard (in charge of Economy at the time) showing worries for Switzerland being ranked 45th worldwide in terms of eGovernment and falling behind Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark in terns of eHealth. She also stressed, and this is important, that it wasn’t about the technology, switherland being very well equipped, but about the Uses of that technology in society
This has led to the launch of the eEconomyBoard, a public-private partnership involving IBM, Microsoft, EPFL, La Poste, SECO among others. But the latest activity dates back to November 2010 according to their web site. It would have been nice to see this entity be slightly more proactive towards defining the challenges and prospective opportunities to shape public policies for the future in this area.

Considering this and coming back to the document discussed here, I would have expected a much more ambitious (i.e., less negative) plan to stimulate the debate towards setting the agenda and priorities for digital society / economy public policies for 2011-2015.

There are some very good examples out there, starting with the EU Digital Agenda (May 2010), one of the “seven flagship initiatives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, set out to define the key enabling role that the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) will have to play if Europe wants to succeed in its ambitions for 2020″.
Juxtaposing both documents inevitably leads to identifying the shortsighted view of the Swiss document in shaping the future policies allowing Switzerland to not only stay competitive but more importantly thrive in a global digital and service oriented world. Let’s not forget the Web was born in Switzerland at CERN and to quote Larry Lessig who gave a wonderful talk over there yesterday : “giving a talk at CERN is as cool as speaking at Pixar”…

In summary, I’m afraid we’re not anywhere close to seeing emerge a Digital Society state secretary or minister in Switzerland, even though it would be among the highest priorities for competitiveness and development. The document released is among the most depressing piece of ICT prospective thinking I’ve ever seen. Switzerland is therefore facing two major challenges: first to get our country officials to understand what is at stake, and then to design the ambitious strategic plan this country must implement in order to at least stay competitive if not leader with respect to this important societal challenge for our future.

So, in three words if nothing changes: BRACE BRACE BRACE ! Oh, and by the way, please don’t forget to pull the electricity plug before we crash (ecology), the saved power may help other countries implement their more ambitious plans.

And to finish on a positive note I call upon everyone to engage in this vital conversation towards a true debate on the opportunities of ICT for Switzerland and the corresponding public policies.

ISP Internet Filtering is Illegal : EU Court of Justice Opinion

Today, Advocate General’s Opinion in the case opposing Scarlet Extended to Société belge des auteurs compositeurs et éditeurs (Sabam) sounded like freedom and (public domain) music to my ears.

“According to Advocate General Cruz Villalón, a measure ordering an internet service provider to install a system for filtering and blocking electronic communications in order to protect intellectual property rights in principle infringes fundamental rights”.

If the verdict is confirmed, this is fantastic news and a step forward in the fight to preserve privacy and freedom of information.
It is also a major signal to the entertainment industry and their lobbies that they cannot carry on trying to force into law their obsolete business models. Maybe an opportunity for them to finally consider re-thinking a few things with respect to their industry and copyright. ISP will no longer be threatened and punished for refusing to spy on their customers. Let’s see how this evolves and the reactions it will trigger.

DECE UltraViolet: Eventually solving (half of?) the digital media entertainment business

As every year CES rolls out its share of news and new products in the consumer electronics business. Among them this year one that may well represent a significant step forward in the digital media distribution and rights management business : DECE’s UltraViolet design completion and deployment roadmap.

Basically, the idea behind UltraViolet is one that’s been floating around for a long long time now but was regularly shelved or discarded due to the inability of the market actors in and across the industry to reach any form of agreement and particularly to acknowledge the essential driver in this marker : The Users and the corresponding User Experience. So, the basic idea behind UltraViolet is the cloud based digital locker for content and rights licenses (check out a promotional video for UltraViolet)

Why might it work ? Well, the answer is fairly simple : DECE (Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem) which is a cross-industry consortium of over 50 companies (and growing) committed to make UltraViolet the next generation standard for rich media experience where the users will get the flexibility and user experience they’ve been denied for over a decade now. With UltraViolet, users will be able to download, stream, share and even get copies for use on physical media, basically covering a great deal of the average user needs in terms of interoperability and user experience.

So, all this sounds like a dream come true ! BUT this might actually only address half (if not less) of the issues. The two major problems in this industry were : User Experience (technical issue) and Business Models. Solving the former through a global (more or less, Apple and Disney are missing!) technical agreement on a common file format is a good start. But the business model side remains an open issue. And history has shown the poor ability of the entertainment industry to be creative in this space.

Moreover, UltraViolet has a pretty precise idea of what a typical user or household wants, uses, needs and is. UltraViolet accounts will be limited to 12 devices, 6 people households and 3 streams in parallel. This is insane !

Finally, and not of least importance is the whole anonymity issue. This approach, allowing for massive monitoring of usage will definitely benefit every actors of the ecosystem except probably the users. Or in other words, assuming such a service cannot offer anonymity for obvious reasons, how will the commercial actors value this in the business models for the users ? There’s a difference between knowing a given movie was or is being viewed and knowing that a specifically identified person is watching this movie and knowing nothing except a piece of content was bought on a given date. These three situations require different pricing ! How much do we value the information we release knowingly or not ? Not much I must say.

For these reasons, (and don’t get me wrong I’m very excited to see how this works out) I remain cautious on the actual solution. The above mentioned issues are important and will need to be addressed and fine tuned. The digital locker is definitely the right way to go for two reasons : technical interoperability (i.e., user experience) and Green IT issues allowing to reduce the amount of storage, waist of bandwidth and energy used for shifting around the world millions of copies of the same content.

At the end of the day, given the right business model and a decent user experience, users are likely to adopt many solutions and services. iTunes remains among the most notable examples of this. Preserving anonymity, complying with personal information regulations around the world and offering the users the ability to unilaterally claim their right to do something without being bothered by technology are key properties that still drive my own research in this fascinating domain. (Comments and reactions welcome 😉 

Additional material :

Will we remember the Internet before 2011 as B.W. (before WikiLeaks) ?

The whole WikiLeaks story raised a few comments I want to briefly share.

First, I was amazed to see that the global organic protest for the WikiLeaks cause has led to tens (if not hundreds) of thousands voluntary downloads of the botnet malware to participate in the global DDoS attack against WikiLeaks opponents. To the best of my knowledge (please comment and correct if I’m wrong), this is the first time in security history that people around the globe deliberately infect themselves with malware to fight for a cause. This isn’t any innocent fact like a blog or a Facebook group gathering millions of supporters, we’re actually looking at a form of modern digital weapon having the potential to disrupt operations of billions of legitimate users with consequences that may go far beyond the somewhat “simple” unavailability of one service. In our services led economy, this is a major issue. Paradoxically many claim this to be some form of ethical hacking allowing the voices of the small and the under-represented to be “heard” in the name of transparency and freedom of information. In any case, never in the past has digital protesting had such a tool to cast their voices. How this whole story unfolds and what position governments will take will be highly interesting to follow. We may actually be at a historical turning point of the Internet. Will we one day remember the Internet before 2011 as B.W. (before WikiLeaks) ? Hopefully not. Feel free to jump in and comment…

The second point I couldn’t help thinking about in connection with the WikiLeaks issue is the whole debate about “responsibility” and Ethics. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around for a while now. It is being taught in almost every business school and in specialized master programs. Likewise, Compliance issues have led to a growing importance of regulatory frameworks following many financial scandals such as Enron, Worldcom, Martha Stewart, etc. More recently, the issue of a global financial crisis emerged and kind of vanished without actually being really addressed. Would we even be talking about this if people were more responsible and accountable for their actions ? Would WikiLeaks have even existed ?

So, the point is the following : both issues mentioned above relate to problems that have become global in their very nature and for which traditional remedies and approaches cannot apply any more (territorially bound legislation, global treaties, UN, centralization).

Internet Governance and Net Neutrality will require new approaches. Maybe not as technological and / or legal as one may think. Responsibility and accountability might be part of the equation. Acknowledging and taking into account the human factor appears to be the most promising direction to address many such problems. Eventually, it could even prove to be a major source of Empowerment for people in their roles and duties. This is the exact point that led me to consider managing exceptions in information security which may sounds totally counterintuitive at first sight (at least from a traditional point of view), but holds a lot of value when assuming people are : free moral actors, responsible; and technology is used to help and empower them rather than something to be circumvented in order to get the job done.

France to generate exclusion, discrimination and inequality with its “Music Card”

France has just released its order behind the “music card” as the public policy to accompany the so called “legal offering measures” for its three strikes approach to copyright infringement (HADOPI).

In a nutshell, I was deeply shocked by its implementation details. Not that I actually expected much out of it (Hey, it’s HADOPI related !), but sometimes you think / hope things can’t fail 100% of the time. Well, I hate to say but it’s actually much much worse than I expected (i.e., really ugly)

Basically I have three major point :

  1. Discrimination : The card is reserved for “youngsters” aged 12 to 25. Read : if you’re below 12 you should go ahead and figure out why you don’t belong to that category and consequently look for alternative options in the darknet or eventually consider filing a complaint for abusive age discrimination (something their parents should do given their young age). Likewise, up to 25 you should feel you belong to one of four stigmatized categories of youngsters as advertised in their ridiculous communication campaign videos : Rap / Electro / Rock and a Fashion junkie. Left me speechless!
  2. Inequality : The number of cards is maxed out at 1 M units per year! France has the largest population in Europe (65 M people) out of which (sorry I don’t have the breakdown for the age category 12-25 at hand, but…) I can reasonably assume there are much more than 1 M “youngsters” concerned, and by far. Moreover apparently this will be on a first come first served basis without actual age checking (self declaration based on honor).
  3. Exclusion : at a time when we’re talking about eInclusion and how to prevent exclusion, this initiative will only serve a handful of people excluding all the others. This is particularly corrosive considering it is instrumented by governments through public policies that cost actual hard worked tax payer dollars. But they are only buying themselves some good conscience, trying to legitimate their HADOPI law.

At the end of the day, there goes 50 M€ of public money down the drain through a public policy generating potential discrimination, exclusion and inequality. What a mess ! Adding up the public money spend through the years with DADVSI, HADOPI and this latest joke / waste of public policy, I just cannot refrain thinking it would have been much better spent educating our kids at school on these issue and others related to living in the Digital Age ! This has become as important as learning to read, write and count.