All posts in “Europe”

European parliament votes for controversial copyright reform (yes, again)

The European Parliament has voted to pass a controversial reform of online copyright rules that critics contend will result in big tech platforms pre-filtering user generated content uploads.

The results of the final vote in the EU parliament were 348 in favor vs 274 against.

An amendment that would have thrown out the most controversial component of the copyright reform — aka Article 13, which makes platforms liable for copyright infringements committed by their users — was rejected by just five votes.

In an earlier vote last fall the EU Parliament also backed the copyright reform proposal, passing negotiations to the EU Council. Months of closed door negotiations followed between representatives of EU Member States and institutions, in so called trilogue discussions, culminating in a final text being agreed last month — which was then handed back to parliament for its final vote today.

Tweaks to the reform agreed by Member States agreed during trilogue appear intended to address criticism that it imposes so-called ‘upload filters’ by default — instead requiring larger platforms to obtain licences for certain types of protected content ahead of time. Though critics still aren’t impressed.

Speaking out against the proposals in the parliament ahead of the vote, Pirate Party member and MEP Julia Reda, who is part of Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the EU parliament, highlighted the scale of popular protests against the copyright reform, saying 200,000 people attended demonstrations in the region this weekend and five million have signed a petition against the reform — claiming there has “never been such broad protest” against an EU directive.

She also accused of the parliament of “thoroughly ignoring” the popular protests and warned it risks convincing young people there’s no point in engaging with democratic protest.

“The most tragic thing about this process is a new generation who are voting in the European elections for the first time this year are learning a lesson: Your protests aren’t worth anything, politics will spread lies about you, and won’t care for factual arguments if geopolitical interests are at stake,” said Reda in an impassioned speech in parliament this afternoon ahead of the vote.

Her speech was interrupted several times by shouts from other MEPs disagreeing.

Freedom of expression vs creative industry

The copyright reform campaign has been massively polarized throughout, with one side claiming it means the end of the free Internet and the death of memes because it will result in all online uploads being pre-filtered; and the other accusing opponents they’re in the pay of tech giants which they accuse of freeloading and leaching off Europe’s creative industries by monetizing copyrighted content without paying for use.

Both sides have also accused each other of spreading disinformation to further their cause. There’s been zero love lost across this divide as lobbyists from the two sides have piled on (and on).

Another element of the reform, Article 11, is a proposal to extend digital copyright to cover the ledes of news stories — which aggregators such as Google News scrape and display.

Unsurprisingly that measure has strong support among European media giants like Axel Springer and critics of the reform accuse its architects of being in hock to the newspaper industry which hopes to benefit financially by being able to charge link aggregator platforms like Google for displaying its content in future.

In recent years a couple of individual EU member states have passed similar laws to extend copyright to news snippets — which led Google to pull Google News entirely from Spain, while in Germany publishers ended up providing their snippets for free. An EU-wide rule could change the dynamics, though.

It’s certainly a much bigger business decision for Google to pull the plug on Google News across the whole of Europe, rather than just in Spain. Though, equally, Google could just come up with a compliance workaround to evade the requirement to pay.

Less discussed elements of the reform include proposals around text and data mining (TDM), which have implications for AI research — including a mandatory copyright exceptions for TDM conducted for research purposes. Teaching and educational purposes are also exempt. But rightholders can opt out of having their works datamined by entities other than research organisations.

The European Commission’s VP for the Digital Single Market tweeted in support of the parliament’s vote today — dubbing it a “big step ahead” which he said will reduce fragmentation across the bloc.

But in a follow up tweet he sought to address concerns that the reform will chill freedom of expression online, writing: “I know there are lots of fears about what users can do or not – now we have clear guarantees for , teaching and online creativity. Member States must make full use of these safeguards in national law.”

In a press release following the parliament’s vote the Commission confirms the text will need to be formally endorsed by the Council of the European Union — which will take place via another vote in the coming weeks, so likely early next month.

Assuming the Council gives its thumbs up the final text will be been published on the Official Journal of the EU, and Member States will then have 24 months to transpose the rules into their national legislation. So the timetable for the copyright directive coming into force is likely 2021.

An accompanying Commission memo on the directive also seeks to address some of the criticisms, with the Commission claiming it “protects freedom of expression [and] sets strong safeguards for users, making clear that everywhere in Europe the use of existing works for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature as well as parody are explicitly allowed”.

“This means that memes and similar parody creations can be used freely. The interests of the users are also preserved through effective mechanisms to swiftly contest any unjustified removal of their content by the platforms,” it adds, in what critics will surely dub cold comfort attempts to paper over the overarching chilling effect on expression from pushing content liability onto platforms.

In another section of the memo, the Commission also writes that the directive does not “impose uploading filters” — nor add any specific technology to recognise illegal content.

“Under the new rules, certain online platforms will be required to conclude licensing agreements with right holders — for example, music or film producers — for the use of music, videos or other copyright protected content. If licences are not concluded, these platforms will have to make their best efforts to ensure that content not authorised by the right holders is not available on their website. The “best effort” obligation does not prescribe any specific means or technology,” it writes.

Though, again, critics argue that will simply translate into upload filters in practice anyway — as platforms will be encouraged to “over-comply” with the rules to “stay on the safe side”, as Reda tells it.

Also critical of the reform, former MEP Catherine Stihler, who’s now CEO of an open data advocacy not-for-profit, called the Open Knowledge Foundation.

In a reaction statement she dubbed the vote “a massive blow for every internet user in Europe”. “We now risk the creation of a more closed society at the very time we should be using digital advances to build a more open world where knowledge creates power for the many, not the few,” she suggested.

Following the vote, Tal Niv, GitHub’s VP of law and policy, also took a critical but more nuanced position, writing: “We’re thankful that policymakers listened and excluded ‘open source software developing and sharing platforms’ from the potential requirement to implement upload filters, which would have made the software ecosystem more fragile. However, the Directive that passed still contains challenges for developers.”

“Anyone developing a platform with EU users that involves sharing links or content faces great uncertainty. The ramifications include being unable to develop features that web users currently expect, and having to implement very expensive and inaccurate automated filtering. On the other hand, inclusion of a mandatory copyright exception for text and data mining in the Directive is welcome, and puts EU developers on a more even playing field relative to their US peers in the development of machine learning and artificial intelligence; looking ahead it will be crucial for member states to implement this exception in a consistent fashion.”

The Computer & Communications Industry Association reacted with disappointment too, warning in a statement that Article 13 undermines the legality of the social and sharing tools and websites that Europeans use every day and saying the reform falls short of “a balanced and modern framework for copyright” despite citing some “recent improvements”.

“We fear it will harm online innovation and restrict online freedoms in Europe. We urge Member States to thoroughly assess and try to minimize the consequences of the text when implementing it,” added Maud Sacquet, CCIA Europe’s senior policy manager.

Monique Goyens, director general of The European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, also described it as a “very unbalanced copyright law”.

“Despite the warnings and concerns of academics, privacy bodies, UN representatives and hundreds of thousands of consumers across Europe, the European Parliament has given its go-ahead to a very unbalanced copyright law. Consumers will have to bear the consequences of this decision,” she warned.

On the flip side professional content creators were jubilant.

“Through this historic vote, a message was sent by Europe to the world, in favour of culture, creation, authors, artists and journalists, and their right to fair remuneration in the digital world,” wrote the Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music in a wordy statement that goes into detail in an attempt to rebut specific various laid charges against the reform. (Such as pointing out that the final text of Article 13 includes an exception for startups — “whose growth will be promoted by clarifying their situation for the use of content protected by authors’ rights”, it suggests.)

“This vote was an act of European sovereignty and a victory for democracy, because it was possible despite one of the most violent campaigns of lobbying and disinformation in the history of the European Union, on the part of those who wanted at all costs to avoid adopting a balanced text,” it added.

In an analysis following the vote law firm Linklaters’ Kathy Berry suggests the controversy and polarization around the copyright reform debate is part of a broader “Hollywood v Silicon Valley” tension — between “content creators that want a high level of copyright protection based on traditional models, and the tech industry that wants to clear the path for new and innovative ways to use and share content”.

“While Article 13 may have noble aims, in its current it functions as little more than a set of ideals, with very little guidance on exactly which service providers will be caught by it or what steps will be sufficient to comply,” she writes delving into the implications for big tech. “This is likely to result in an ongoing lack of legal and commercial certainty until the scope of the Directive is fleshed out by either the Commission’s proposed guidance or by European jurisprudence.”

On Article 11 extending copyright to news snippets Berry says the final version of the text is “much watered down” — noting that it excludes both hyperlinks and “very short extracts” of publications — going on to suggest it’s “unlikely to have any significant impact on news aggregators like Google News after all”.

Facebook staff raised concerns about Cambridge Analytica in September 2015, per court filing

Further details have emerged about when and how much Facebook knew about data-scraping by the disgraced and now defunct Cambridge Analytica political data firm.

Last year a major privacy scandal hit Facebook after it emerged CA had paid GSR, a developer with access to Facebook’s platform, to extract personal data on as many as 87 million Facebook users without proper consent.

Cambridge Analytica’s intention was to use the data to build psychographic profiles of American voters to target political messages — with the company initially working for the Ted Cruz and later the Donald Trump presidential candidate campaigns.

But employees at Facebook appear to have raised internal concerns about CA scraping user data in September 2015 — i.e. months earlier than Facebook previously told lawmakers it became aware of the GSR/CA breach (December 2015).

The latest twist in the privacy scandal has emerged via a redacted court filing in the U.S. — where the District of Columbia is suing Facebook in a consumer protection enforcement case.

Facebook is seeking to have documents pertaining to the case sealed, while the District argues there is nothing commercially sensitive to require that.

In its opposition to Facebook’s motion to seal the document, the District includes a redacted summary (screengrabbed below) of the “jurisdictional facts” it says are contained in the papers Facebook is seeking to keep secret.

According to the District’s account, a Washington, DC-based Facebook employee warned others in the company about Cambridge Analytica’s data-scraping practices as early as September 2015.

Under questioning in Congress last April, Mark Zuckerberg was asked directly by congressman Mike Doyle when Facebook had first learned about Cambridge Analytica using Facebook data — and whether specifically it had learned about it as a result of the December 2015 Guardian article (which broke the story).

Zuckerberg responded with a “yes” to Doyle’s question.

Facebook repeated the same line to the U.K.’s Digital, Media and Sport (DCMA) committee last year, over a series of hearings with less senior staffers

Damian Collins, the chair of the DCMS committee — which made repeat requests for Zuckerberg himself to testify in front of its enquiry into online disinformation, only to be repeatedly rebuffed — tweeted yesterday that the new detail could suggest Facebook “consistently mislead” the British parliament.

The DCMS committee has previously accused Facebook of deliberately misleading its enquiry on other aspects of the CA saga, with Collins taking the company to task for displaying a pattern of evasive behavior.

The earlier charge that it mislead the committee refers to a hearing in Washington in February 2018 — when Facebook sent its U.K. head of policy, Simon Milner, and its head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, to field DCMS’ questions — where the pair failed to inform the committee about a legal agreement Facebook had made with Cambridge Analytica in December 2015.

The committee’s final report was also damning of Facebook, calling for regulators to instigate antitrust and privacy probes of the tech giant.

Meanwhile, questions have continued to be raised about Facebook’s decision to hire GSR co-founder Joseph Chancellor, who reportedly joined the company around November 2015.

The question now is if Facebook knew there were concerns about CA data-scraping prior to hiring the co-founder of the company that sold scraped Facebook user data to CA, why did it go ahead and hire Chancellor?

The GSR co-founder has never been made available by Facebook to answer questions from politicians (or press) on either side of the pond.

Last fall he was reported to have quietly left Facebook, with no comment from Facebook on the reasons behind his departure — just as it had never explained why it hired him in the first place.

But the new timeline that has emerged of what Facebook knew when makes those questions more pressing than ever.

Reached for a response to the details contained in the District of Columbia’s court filing, a Facebook spokeswomen sent us this statement:

Facebook was not aware of the transfer of data from Kogan/GSR to Cambridge Analytica until December 2015, as we have testified under oath

In September 2015 employees heard speculation that Cambridge Analytica was scraping data, something that is unfortunately common for any internet service. In December 2015, we first learned through media reports that Kogan sold data to Cambridge Analytica, and we took action. Those were two different things.

Facebook did not engage with questions about any of the details and allegations in the court filing.

A little later in the court filing, the District of Columbia writes that the documents Facebook is seeking to seal are “consistent” with its allegations that “Facebook has employees embedded within multiple presidential candidate campaigns who… knew, or should have known… [that] Cambridge Analytica [was] using the Facebook consumer data harvested by [[GSR’s]] [Aleksandr] Kogan throughout the 2016 [United States presidential] election.”

It goes on to suggest that Facebook’s concern to seal the document is “reputational,” suggesting — in another redacted segment (below) — that it might “reflect poorly” on Facebook that a DC-based employee had flagged Cambridge Analytica months prior to news reports of its improper access to user data.

“The company may also seek to avoid publishing its employees’ candid assessments of how multiple third-parties violated Facebook’s policies,” it adds, chiming with arguments made last year by GSR’s Kogan, who suggested the company failed to enforce the terms of its developer policy, telling the DCMS committee it therefore didn’t have a “valid” policy.

As we’ve reported previously, the U.K.’s data protection watchdog — which has an ongoing investigation into CA’s use of Facebook data — was passed information by Facebook as part of that probe, which showed that three “senior managers” had been involved in email exchanges, prior to December 2015, concerning the CA breach.

It’s not clear whether these exchanges are the same correspondence the District of Columbia has obtained and which Facebook is seeking to seal, or whether there were multiple email threads raising concerns about the company.

The ICO passed the correspondence it obtained from Facebook to the DCMS committee — which last month said it had agreed at the request of the watchdog to keep the names of the managers confidential. (The ICO also declined to disclose the names or the correspondence when we made a Freedom of Information request last month — citing rules against disclosing personal data and its ongoing investigation into CA meaning the risk of release might be prejudicial to its investigation.)

In its final report, the committee said this internal correspondence indicated “profound failure of governance within Facebook” — writing:

[I]t would seem that this important information was not shared with the most senior executives at Facebook, leading us to ask why this was the case. The scale and importance of the GSR/Cambridge Analytica breach was such that its occurrence should have been referred to Mark Zuckerberg as its CEO immediately. The fact that it was not is evidence that Facebook did not treat the breach with the seriousness it merited. It was a profound failure of governance within Facebook that its CEO did not know what was going on, the company now maintains, until the issue became public to us all in 2018. The incident displays the fundamental weakness of Facebook in managing its responsibilities to the people whose data is used for its own commercial interests.

We reached out to the ICO for comment on the information to emerge via the Columbia suit, and also to the Irish Data Protection Commission, the lead DPA for Facebook’s international business, which currently has 15 open investigations into Facebook or Facebook-owned businesses related to various security, privacy and data protection issues.

An ICO spokesperson told us: “We are aware of these reports and will be considering the points made as part of our ongoing investigation.”

Last year the ICO issued Facebook with the maximum possible fine under U.K. law for the CA data breach.

Shortly after, Facebook announced it would appeal, saying the watchdog had not found evidence that any U.K. users’ data was misused by CA.

A date for the hearing of the appeal set for earlier this week was canceled without explanation. A spokeswoman for the tribunal court told us a new date would appear on its website in due course.

This report was updated with comment from the ICO.

Ahead of third antitrust ruling, Google announces fresh tweaks to Android in Europe

Google is widely expected to be handed a third antitrust fine in Europe this week, with reports suggesting the European Commission’s decision in its long-running investigation of AdSense could land later today.

Right on cue the search giant has PRed another Android product tweak — which it bills as “supporting choice and competition in Europe”.

In the coming months Google says it will start prompting users of existing and new Android devices in Europe to ask which browser and search apps they would like to use.

This follows licensing changes for Android in Europe which Google announced last fall, following the Commission’s $5BN antitrust fine for anti-competitive behavior related to how it operates the dominant smartphone OS.

tl;dr competition regulation can shift policy and product.

Albeit, the devil will be in the detail of Google’s self-imposed ‘remedy’ for Android browser and search apps.

Which means how exactly the user is prompted will be key — given tech giants are well-versed in the manipulative arts of dark pattern design, enabling them to create ‘consent’ flows that deliver their desired outcome.

A ‘choice’ designed in such a way — based on wording, button/text size and color, timing of prompt and so on — to promote Google’s preferred browser and search app choice by subtly encouraging Android users to stick with its default apps may not actually end up being much of a ‘choice’.

According to Reuters the prompt will surface to Android users via the Play Store. (Though the version of Google’s blog post we read did not include that detail.)

Using the Play Store for the prompt would require an Android device to have Google’s app store pre-loaded — and licensing tweaks made to the OS in Europe last year were supposedly intended to enable OEMs to choose to unbundle Google apps from Android forks. Ergo making only the Play Store the route for enabling choice would be rather contradictory.

Add to that Google has the advantage of massive brand dominance here, thanks to its kingpin position in search, browsers and smartphone platforms.

So again the consumer decision is weighted in its favor. Or, to put it another way: ‘This is Google; it can afford to offer a ‘choice’.’

In its blog post getting out ahead of the Commission’s looming AdSense ruling, Google’s SVP of global affairs, Kent Walker, writes that the company has been “listening carefully to the feedback we’re getting” vis-a-vis competition.

Though the search giant is actually appealing both antitrust decisions. (The other being a $2.7BN fine it got slapped with two years ago for promoting its own shopping comparison service and demoting rivals’.)

“After the Commission’s July 2018 decision, we changed the licensing model for the Google apps we build for use on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search,” Walker continues. “In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app.”

Other opinions are available on those changes too.

Such as French pro-privacy Google search rival Qwant, which last year told us how those licensing changes still make it essentially impossible for smartphone makers to profit off of devices that don’t bake in Google apps by default. (More recently Qwant’s founder condensed the situation to “it’s a joke“.)

Qwant and another European startup Jolla, which leads development of an Android alternative smartphone platform called Sailfish — and is also a competition complainant against Google in Europe — want regulators to step in and do more.

The Commission has said it is closely monitoring changes made by Google to determine whether or not the company has complied with its orders to stop anti-competitive behavior.

So the jury is still out on whether any of these various tweaks sum to compliance. (Google says so but that’s as you’d expect — and certainly doesn’t mean the Commission will agree.)

In its Android decision last summer the Commission judged that Google’s practices harmed competition and “further innovation” in the wider mobile space, i.e. beyond Internet search — because it prevented other mobile browsers from competing effectively with its pre-installed Chrome browser.

So browser choice is a key component here. And ‘effective competition’ is the bar Google’s homebrew ‘remedies’ will have to meet.

The company will be hoping its latest Android tweaks steer off further Commission antitrust action. Or at least generate more fuzz and fuel for its long-game legal appeal.

Current EU competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, has flagged for years that the division is also fielding complaints about other Google products, including travel search, image search and maps. So Google could face fresh antitrust investigations in future, even as the last of the first batch is about to wrap up.

The FT reports that Android users in the European economic area last week started seeing links to rival websites appearing above Google’s answer box for searches for products, jobs or businesses — with the rival links appearing above paid results links to Google’s own services.

The newspaper points out that tweak is similar to a change promoted by Google in 2013, when it was trying to resolve EU antitrust concerns under the prior commissioner, Joaquín Almunia.

However rivals at the time complained the tweak was insufficient. The Commission subsequently agreed — and under Vestager’s tenure went on to hit Google with antitrust fines.

Walker doesn’t mention these any of additional antitrust complaints swirling around Google’s business in Europe, choosing to focus on highlighting changes it’s made in response to the two extant Commission antitrust rulings.

“After the Commission’s July 2018 decision, we changed the licensing model for the Google apps we build for use on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search. In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app,” he writes.

Nor does he make mention of a recent change Google quietly made to the lists of default search engine choices in its Chrome browser — which expanded the “choice” he claims the company offers by surfacing more rivals. (The biggest beneficiary of that tweak is privacy search rival DuckDuckGo, which suddenly got added to the Chrome search engine lists in around 60 markets. Qwant also got added as a default choice in France.)

Talking about Android specifically Walker instead takes a subtle indirect swipe at iOS maker Apple — which now finds itself the target of competition complaints in Europe, via music streaming rival Spotify, and is potentially facing a Commission probe of its own (albeit, iOS’ marketshare in Europe is tiny vs Android). So top deflecting Google.

“On Android phones, you’ve always been able to install any search engine or browser you want, irrespective of what came pre-installed on the phone when you bought it. In fact, a typical Android phone user will usually install around 50 additional apps on their phone,” Walker writes, drawing attention to the fact that Apple does not offer iOS users as much of a literal choice as Google does.

“Now we’ll also do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones,” he adds, saying: “This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.”

We’ve reached out to Commission for comment, and to Google with questions about the design of its incoming browser and search app prompts in Europe and will update this report with any response.

Snap is under NDA with UK Home Office discussing how to centralize age checks online

Snap is under NDA with the UK’s Home Office as part of a working group tasked with coming up with more robust age verification technology that’s able to robustly identify children online.

The detail emerged during a parliamentary committee hearing as MPs in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) questioned Stephen Collins, Snap’s senior director for public policy international, and Will Scougal, director of creative strategy EMEA.

A spokesman in the Home Office press office hadn’t immediately heard of any discussions with the messaging company on the topic of age verification. But we’ll update this story with any additional context on the department’s plans if more info is forthcoming.

Under questioning by the committee Snap conceded its current age verification systems are not able to prevent under 13 year olds from signing up to use its messaging platform.

The DCMS committee’s interest here is it’s running an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies.

Snap admitted that the most popular means of signing up to its app (i.e. on mobile) is where its age verification system is weakest, with Collins saying it had no ability to drop a cookie to keep track of mobile users to try to prevent repeat attempts to get around its age gate.

But he emphasized Snap does not want underage users on its platform.

“That brings us no advantage, that brings us no commercial benefit at all,” he said. “We want to make it an enjoyable place for everybody using the platform.”

He also said Snap analyzes patterns of user behavior to try to identify underage users — investigating accounts and banning those which are “clearly” determined not to be old enough to use the service.

But he conceded there’s currently “no foolproof way” to prevent under 13s from signing up.

Discussing alternative approaches to verifying kids’ age online the Snap policy staffer agreed parental consent approaches are trivially easy for children to circumvent — such as by setting up spoof email accounts or taking a photo of a parent’s passport or credit card to use for verification.

Social media company Facebook is one such company that relies a ‘parental consent’ system to ‘verify’ the age of teen users — though, as we’ve previously reported, it’s trivially easy for kids to workaround.

“I think the most sustainable solution will be some kind of central verification system,” Collins suggested, adding that such a system is “already being discussed” by government ministers.

“The home secretary has tasked the Home Office and related agencies to look into this — we’re part of that working group,” he continued.

“We actually met just yesterday. I can’t give you the details here because I’m under an NDA,” Collins added, suggesting Snap could send the committee details in writing.

“I think it’s a serious attempt to really come to a proper conclusion — a fitting conclusion to this kind of conundrum that’s been there, actually, for a long time.”

“There needs to be a robust age verification system that we can all get behind,” he added.

The UK government is expected to publish a White Paper setting out its policy ideas for regulating social media and safety before the end of the winter.

The detail of its policy plans remain under wraps so it’s unclear whether the Home Office intends to include setting up a centralized system of online age verification for robustly identifying kids on social media platforms as part of its safety-focused regulation. But much of the debate driving the planned legislation has fixed on content risks for kids online.

Such a step would also not be the first time UK ministers have pushed the envelop around online age verification.

A controversial system of age checks for viewing adult content is due to come into force shortly in the UK under the Digital Economy Act — albeit, after a lengthy delay. (And ignoring all the hand-wringing about privacy and security risks; not to mention the fact age checks will likely be trivially easy to dodge by those who know how to use a VPN etc, or via accessing adult content on social media.)

But a centralized database of children for age verification purposes — if that is indeed the lines along which the Home Office is thinking — sounds rather closer to Chinese government Internet controls.

Given that, in recent years, the Chinese state has been pushing games companies to age verify users to enforce limits on play time for kids (also apparently in response to health concerns around video gaming addiction).

The UK has also pushed to create centralized databases of web browsers’ activity for law enforcement purposes, under the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act. (Parts of which it’s had to rethink following legal challenges, with other legal challenges ongoing.)

In recent years it has also emerged that UK spy agencies maintain bulk databases of citizens — known as ‘bulk personal datasets‘ — regardless of whether a particular individual is suspected of a crime.

So building yet another database to contain children’s ages isn’t perhaps as off piste as you might imagine for the country.

Returning to the DCMS committee’s enquiry, other questions for Snap from MPs included several critical ones related to its ‘streaks’ feature — whereby users who have been messaging each other regularly are encouraged not to stop the back and forth.

The parliamentarians raised constituent and industry concerns about the risk of peer pressure being piled on kids to keep the virtual streaks going.

Snap’s reps told the committee the feature is intended to be a “celebration” of close friendship, rather than being intentionally designed to make the platform sticky and so encourage stress.

Though they conceded users have no way to opt out of streak emoji appearing.

They also noted they have previously reduced the size of the streak emoji to make it less prominent.

But they added they would take concerns back to product teams and re-examine the feature in light of the criticism.

You can watch the full committee hearing with Snap here.

This robot can park your car for you

French startup Stanley Robotics showed off its self-driving parking robot at Lyon-Saint-Exupéry airport today. While I couldn’t be there in person, the service is going live by the end of March 2019. And here’s what it looks like.

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The startup has been working on a robot called Stan. These giant robots can literally pick up your car at the entrance of a gigantic parking lot and then park it for you. You might think that parking isn’t that hard, but it makes a lot of sense when you think about airport parking lots.

Those parking lots have become one of the most lucrative businesses for airport companies. But many airports don’t have a ton of space. They keep adding new terminals and it is becoming increasingly complicated to build more parking lots.

That’s why Stanley Robotics can turn existing parking lots into automated parking areas. It’s more efficient as you don’t need space to circulate between all parking spaces. According to the startup, you can create 50 percent more spaces in the same surface area.

If you’re traveling for a few months, Stan robots can put your car in a corner and park a few cars in front of your car. Stan robots will make your car accessible shortly before you land. This way, it’s transparent for the end user.

At Vinci’s Lyon airport, there will be 500 parking spaces dedicated to Stanley Robotics. Four robots will work day in, day out to move cars around the parking lot. But Vinci and Stanley Robotics already plan to expand this system to up to 6,000 spaces in total.

According to the airport website, booking a parking space for a week on the normal P5 parking lot costs €50.40. It costs €52.20 if you want a space on P5+, the parking lot managed by Stanley Robotics.

Self-driving cars are not there yet because the road is so unpredictable. But Stanley Robotics has removed all the unpredictable elements. You can’t walk on the parking lot. You just interact with a garage at the gate of the parking. After the door is closed, the startup controls the environment from start to finish.

Now, let’s see if Vinci Airports plans to expand its partnership with Stanley Robotics to other airports around the world.