Thursday, September 04, 2014

Jennifer Lawrence and the right to be forgotten

Privacy is back in the news because some celebrities, such as the talented Jennifer Lawrence, have had compromising photographs leaked and the police have been accessing a journalist's phone records.

Can the latest scandals throw any light on the mislabeled and erroneously reported Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) Google "right to be forgotten" decision?

Well perhaps, at least in the case of the leaked photos. Some of our US cousins, for example, find it hard to understand the ruling and consider it fundamentally incompatible with US First Amendment guarantees for freedom of expression.What the hell do those regressive Europeans think they are doing?

These same horror-stricken people, however, do see that a movie star, who has embarrassing photographs copied or stolen and leaked around the world, should have some means of redress, recovering those photos and/or suppressing their distribution. Likewise the victims of revenge porn or blackmail as in AMP v persons unknown.

It's not the same, but did Mario Costeja González have the right to redress in relation to Google's prominent display in search results of a link to a news article about historical financial difficulties?

Lilian Edwards did a terrific job explaining that EU law requires that yes he should, in the process nailing some of the key myths circulating about the decision.

Having been completely neglectful in not yet analysing the case here, I've been prompted to some brief thoughts by the latest round of stories. Disclaimer: This doesn't constitute a proper analysis (for which, sadly, I have little time at the moment). In any case...

Firstly, everybody makes mistakes and suffers embarrassment.

Fear of same actually constrains some people so much they neglect to do or say anything that in any way might rebound on them or be used as a metaphoric stick to beat them with by the communities within which they exist. This can be incredibly debilitating.

Historically, however, society has enabled "recovery" from mistakes or embarrassment through collective fading and displacement of memories of those events.

We have now, though, spent the best part of the last 30 years enabling, actively and/or passively, the building and operation of a communications mass surveillance infrastructure and 'permanent' digital memory store, unparalleled in the history of the human race. We've been happy to revel in the benefits of these technologies as have governments and large economic actors like Google. But as John Naughton so eloquently puts it, our " indolence is a shocking case study of what complacent ignorance can do to a democracy, and we are now living with the consequences of it."

We are, nevertheless, where we are and it presents us with a complex mess to sort out.  So on the Google case specifically, it's worth at least asking a few questions.

Supposing Google or other economic agents or governments prominently and permanently tags/connects a past mistake or embarrassment to a person's name, so that we cannot "recover" through fading or displacement of collective memory. Supposing also that these agents prominently flag these mistakes through headline search results that, in our world of short attention spans, means we can never escape them. Let's face it we are a society quick to condemn on the basis of flimsy, minimal or non-existent evidence and occasionally don't even bother to click on the link, merely judge by the headline...

Is this a problem?
  1. for the individual?
  2. for the individual's family, friends, community?
  3. for society generally?
  4. for Google and other economic agents as collectors, processors and controllers of the personal data at issue?
  5. for government and the courts?
I'd answer 'yes' to each of these to a variety of degrees for a variety of reasons. If you answer yes to any of them we have a significant mess that requires sorting out. The part of that mess the CJEU attempted to target in the very narrowly tailored Google Spain v González decision was, on balance,  a tiny step in the right direction.

Even Google have got over their original hissy fit over the decision and are getting on with it. They've stopped 'loudly' indicating results were being censored and anyone wanting to see them could click on a convenient link, provided on the search results page to the US version of Google.

The decision itself requires only the link from the name of the person formally requesting a takedown to the page that name appears in be removed. The webpage with the information about the individual's past remains in place. Someone with semi coherent search skills can still easily find it. Lazy name searches, for those subjects who successfully request it, just don't now lead directly to the equivalent of a digital loudhailer proclaiming the individual, like everyone, has some mistakes in their past that society should accept are spent.

The ruling does not constitute a general 'right to be forgotten' which might itself present all kinds of challenges. The one major problem with it is that it delegates a public interest and fundamental rights decision to a private economic actor, Google in this instance, that should probably sit within the remit of a court, tribunal or at least some other quasi-judicial public authority.

And finally, for the 1st Amendment absolutists, how free to speak is the sensitive man/woman/child terrified that any misspoken comment, mistake or embarrassing situation will be blown up and held against them for the rest of their natural lives? This, given our out of control mass surveillance society, is a 1st amendment issue too, just not necessarily in the way you suppose.

Update: John Naughton's exposé of the ugly side of human nature "celebgate" reveals is essential reading.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Deja vu: Dear VirginMedia executive team - about that poor broadband service yet again

Re-post below of most of the entry from 24 August which disappeared earlier today.

For information for those who might find themselves in a similar predicament, I located this majority part of the post by typing the original url,, directly into DuckDuckGo. (I was only able to dig out the original url because I had put the link on Twitter).

Google searches proved useless. Dogpile, Yahoo and Bing equally so. Yet DuckDuckGo pointed me at a Google cache version of the post which I've cut and pasted below. I tried Google cache directly with no luck. found it too, in Google cache. CoralCache and the Internet Archive didn't have it.

In the cached version copied below, there is a missing update from Monday 1/8/'14 and this morning where I thanked the excellent VirginMedia technician, Craig, for his efforts, on Monday, to sort out the connectivity problems. In attendance at the (as ever) wonderful Gikii 2014, I wasn't available on the day but my better half tells me Craig did a thorough hardware and signal diagnostic check inside and outside. He noted that the signal was significantly outside acceptable parameters, tightened all the connections inside and out, noted there may have been neighbouring wireless interference via the splitter outside which is sometimes prone to water leakage, fitted a 10dB attenuator to the modem hub and generally tried to be very helpful and informative. He also upgraded the connection from a 60Mbps to a 100Mbps signal.

Connectivity has been largely ok for the past couple of days (and had actually been pretty ok for the previous two days, over the weekend, for the first time in ages). So hopefully Craig has got to the bottom of the problem and put it right. Though I notice from a couple of speedtest checks that there has been spiky variability on the signal again this evening. It's currently running between 20 and 80 Mbps but that may be down to it being a busy period of the evening.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dear VirginMedia executive team - about that poor broadband service yet again

My VirginMedia broadband service has been deteriorating and getting erratic again. So I've written to the VirginMedia Executive Team, including a copy of the open letter I sent the CEO the last time it was really bad.

I really can't face the endless telephone tag, the effusive exuberance of the recorded young woman's voice they use on the phone lines, the VirginMedia website mining, the days of superhub channel changing experiments, the plugging the hub out and in, and all the other usual suspects that involve vast expenditure of customer time and energy largely to no useful end. I've kept it short this time. 
Dear VirginMedia Executive Team,

Your broadband service has, yet again, been erratic, wireless connectivity exceptionally so. It has been deteriorating again for weeks. One laptop simply cannot connect wirelessly at all today.

Your “check service status” phone line “confirms” that Virgin Media believe/assert “there are no problems” in my area. Your “check service status” facility on the web - 
says there is “Good service” in my area.

As is regularly the case, they are both wrong.

As before, I'm merely asking for an operational service and now I'm going to repeat myself: 

When there is a problem with my broadband service – it’s slow and/or down and/or erratic and/or there are power fluctuations on the line – I want Virgin Media to know about it, let me know about it in an accessible communiqué, work hard to fix it asap and deliver a reliable service. I don't want to play telephone tag for hours, days or weeks or go on endless, fruitless Virgin Media website mining expeditions, in an effort to find a temporary DIY patch for the prevailing problem to tide me over until the next disruption.

Given that my bills are paid regularly regardless of the standard of service you provide, it really doesn't seem to much to ask that that service be robust and reliable.


Ray Corrigan
Open letter to Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, (draft originally addressed to Richard Branson before I remembered that Mr Branson sold the company toLiberty Global last year).

Dear Mr Mockridge,
Much though I appreciate the regular opportunity to navigate your Virgin Media broadband service telephone tag maze and engage your stressed call centre staff in friendly conversation, I'm rather busy with other personal and professional things in life at the moment. 
Your broadband service which I subscribe to at home has provided a variable wireless connection to my collection of digital devices for several days and has been deteriorating for several months.  Though the connection to the computer directly wired to the Virgin Super Hub has been more or less ok, apart from the odd day or two or threes interruptions to service here and there, the wireless connection to other devices has been erratic and often slow with download speeds slipping below several tenths of a Mbps.
As when I wrote to Richard Branson in October 2012, I'd just like to point out, again, that this is disrupting my family’s work, education, social activities and access to public and commercial services.

Your “check service status” phone line “confirms” that Virgin Media believe/assert “there are no problems” in my area.
Your “check service status” facility on the web -
says there is “Good service” in my area.
They are both wrong.
As I believe I explained previously, to Mr Branson when he owned the company, when there are problems it is somewhat irritating if Virgin Media declare/think/pretend there are none.

Your labyrinthine, do-it-yourself (DIY) ‘check and fix your own problems’ approach on the Virgin Media website is quite something.  It assumes customers have the capacity and the skill to hunt down and follow a series of Russian doll like instructions and articles about where you might find instructions which rarely fix anything. This does, however, generate significant angst. I'm at risk of repeating myself here but one of my least favourite activities, when I get home from work, is going through a series of convoluted, difficult to access (via your website or phone helplines) routine processes I know to be futile, in an effort to demonstrate to one of your difficult to access call centre folks that I’ve already tried the stuff on their crib sheet without success.

Your various “helplines” – out of which, these days, positively dance the effusively cheery young woman's recorded voice, seemingly nothing short of delighted to hear from me - are not very helpful. Incidentally the consultants – that advised your people or your people's people that customers, reduced to having to engage in endless telephone tag about a fault, would have their disquietude quelled by an extravagantly high spirited recorded voice – were wrong. 

“Press 1 for…” queuing, canned music, notes that staff are busy (me too) and I'll have to stay on hold for x minutes, opportunities to choose the type of canned music I'd like to hear (my kids thought that was hilarious), more of the excessively upbeat recorded female voice and eventually, at the end of a long wait, connect to a member of call centre staff who can’t help. Apparently I'd been routed to cable services instead of national services. So cable services' Jay therefore had to transfer me to another part of your operation which in its turn can't help because I've been misdirected; so will transfer me to someone who they guarantee, absolutely, this time, will be the right person. None of this is conducive to soothing already fragile customer relations.  

I spent about 40 minutes on the phone yesterday evening and after three false starts got through to a senior technician, Anjan, who seemed pretty stressed and worn out himself. I explained the wifi problem and Anjan declared Virgin could not guarantee a stable wifi connection. Not a promising start and something of a contrast to the response I got from a very helpful lady called Shambhavi when I had an equivalent wifi problem in August of 2013.* 

In any case Anjan re-booted the super hub and changed the wireless channel. Neither activity helped. (They didn't the last time I tried them either.) So he said the best thing to do would be to send a technician round to physically relocate the super hub. Now given the super hub has not moved and we haven't acquired or run any extra digital technologies in the past week, I'm skeptical that the notion of physically moving the hub will make any appreciable difference to the erratic wifi connection. Nevertheless I accept that Anjan, as he said, was at the end of a telephone line and couldn't see the relative layout of where the wireless devices were in relation to the hub.  

So I await your technician to work his/her magic next Tuesday between 1 and 6pm . The restoration of my wireless connections to something in the realm consistent usability and the banishment particularly of that irritating video buffering circle to the annals of history will be most welcome, if it can be achieved. I will, by the way, have to miss an important meeting to be at home to accommodate this visit.
To any Virgin Media staff who trip across this open note - if you have, thanks for taking the time to read it thus far. To the Virgin Media call centre staff most of whom are doing your best in the face of problems outside your control - thank you for your efforts and your understanding, when you can muster it up, that I did not call to make your life miserable, merely to ask for an operational service. 

To Mr Mockridge - as I said to Mr Branson, when there is a problem with my broadband service – it’s slow and/or down and/or erratic and/or there are power fluctuations on the line – I want Virgin Media to know about it, let me know about it in an accessible communiqué, work hard to fix it asap and deliver a reliable service. I don't want to play telephone tag for hours, days or weeks or go on endless, fruitless Virgin Media website mining expeditions, in an effort to find a temporary DIY patch for the prevailing problem to tide me over until the next disruption. 

BT write regularly encouraging me to switch broadband provider.  The series of disruptions in Virgin Media services in the past year alone is causing me to wonder whether that alternative would be more consistently reliable, with the additional bonus of access to BT Sport.
Yours sincerely,
Ray Corrigan
Update 28/8/'14: I've had an email from the CEO Case Manager at Virgin Media, Alex Poole, on 26/8 indicating my case would be assigned to a specialist complaints agent within 24 hours. I did indeed get a call from a very helpful Virgin Media member of staff, Andy, yesterday who I talked through the problem of the erratic connectivity. He suggested sending a technician out to diagnose and hopefully resolve the problem next Monday.  Additionally I've had another call today from the principle engineer, Jacob, who also tried to be very helpful and is keen to resolve the problem. Jacob mentioned that they had not spotted any network problems in my area through their diagnostics. I noted that my connection was down completely for about 30 minutes yesterday, so he's going to recheck the logs for the past 24 hours or so. In any case, hopefully this encouraging willingness on the part of Virgin Media's staff means I'll have a robust reliable connection by early next week.

Dear Blogger, Why has my post on Virgin Media disappeared?

Dear Blogger,

A recent post on this blog on my experiences with Virgin Media home broadband service, (which, incidentally, I updated this morning to thank the excellent member of staff who called and attempted to sort out the problems), has disappeared.

The link was

Why has this happened?

What prompted it?

Has it been deleted in error or deliberately or upon request by person/persons/economic-agents unknown?

If so can said requester/s be identified and the purpose of their request for deletion/take-down made known?

Have I inadvertently deleted the post? I have been using Blogger for a long time so I do believe this is unlikely but I'd appreciate knowing what I might have done to lose the post, the first of 4626 I would have lost in my well over a decade's use of Blogger.


Ray Corrigan