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loot box Fifteen EU-based regulators plus Washington State have made a joint declaration while Australian based study likens loot boxes to gambling, not baseball cardsFifteen EU gambling regulators from the UK, Ireland, France, Austria, Poland, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Spain, the Isle of Man, Malta, Portugal, Jersey, Norway, and the Netherlands plus US representation from the Washington State Gambling Regulator published the letter, noting their concerns with the business model.

In addition to the loot box problem, the letter addresses how it will take on websites that let players either gamble or sell in-game items like skins or weapons with real-world money.

One of the signatories, Neil McArthur, CEO of the UK Gambling Commission said:

We have joined forces to call on video games companies to address the clear public concern around the risks gambling and some video games can pose to children. We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected.

The letter speaks of the groups concerns but does not detail the direction sthat the group will take in reacting to the concerns.

According to VentureBeat, a study conducted by the Australian Parliament’s Environment and Communications References Committee showed that there were links between loot box spending and problematic gambling. The population sample size was 7500 people.

The more severe a gamers’ problem gambling was, the more likely they were to spend large amounts of money on loot boxes. These results strongly support claims that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling, said the report, conducted by Dr. David Zendle and Dr. Paul Cairns.

In a statement, the pair added loot boxes could potentially act as an introduction to gambling or take advantage of gambling disorders. They note that the industry tends to brush off loot boxes as similar to harmless products like baseball cards, football/soccer stickers, and products along those lines.

In related news games maker EA could face legal issues for ignoring a ruling by the Belgian government to remove the Ultimate Team portion from FIFA 18.

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Ofcom logo Ofcom has published a prospectus angling for a role as the UK internet censor. It writes:

Ofcom has published a discussion document examining the area of harmful online content.

In the UK and around the world, a debate is underway about whether regulation is needed to address a range of problems that originate online, affecting people, businesses and markets.

The discussion document is intended as a contribution to that debate, drawing on Ofcom’s experience of regulating the UK’s communications sector, and broadcasting in particular. It draws out the key lessons from the regulation of content standards 203 for broadcast and on-demand video services 203 and the insights that these might provide to policy makers into the principles that could underpin any new models for addressing harmful online content.

The UK Government intends to legislate to improve online safety, and to publish a White Paper this winter. Any new legislation is a matter for Government and Parliament, and Ofcom has no view about the institutional arrangements that might follow.

Alongside the discussion paper, Ofcom has published joint research with the Information Commissioner’s Office on people’s perception, understanding and experience of online harm. The survey of 1,686 adult internet users finds that 79% have concerns about aspects of going online, and 45% have experienced some form of online harm. The study shows that protection of children is a primary concern, and reveals mixed levels of understanding around what types of media are regulated.

The sales pitch is more or less that Ofcom’s TV censorship has ‘benefited’ viewers so would be a good basis for internet censorship.

Ofcom particularly makes a point of pushing the results of a survey of internet users and their ‘concerns’. The survey is very dubious and ends up suggesting thet 79% of users have concerns about going on line.

And maybe this claim is actually true. After all, the Melon Farmers are amongst the 79% have concerns about going online: The Melon Farmers are concerned that:

  • There are vast amounts of scams and viruses waiting to be filtered out from Melon Farmers email inbox every day.
  • The authorities never seem interested in doing anything whatsoever about protecting people from being scammed out of their life savings. Have you EVER heard of the police investigating a phishing scam?
  • On the other hand the police devote vast resources to prosecuting internet insults and jokes, whilst never investigating scams that see old folks lose their life savings.

So yes, there is concern about the internet. BUT, it would be a lie to infer that these concerns mean support for Ofcom’s proposals to censor websites along the lines of TV.

In fact looking at the figures, some of the larger categories of ‘concern’s are more about fears of real crime rather than concerns about issues like fake news.

Interestingly Ofcom has published how the ‘concerns’ were hyped up by prompting the surveyed a bit. For instance, Ofcom reports that 12% of internet users say they are ‘concerned’ about fake news without being prompted. With a little prompting by the interviewer, the number of people reporting being concerned about fake news magically increases to 29%.

It also has to be noted that there are NO reports in the survey of internet users concerned about a lack news balancing opinions, a lack of algorithm transparency, a lack of trust ratings for news sources, or indeed for most of the other suggestions that Ofcom addresses.

I’ve seen more fake inferences in the Ofcom discussion document than I have seen fake news items on the internet in the last ten years.

See also an article from vpncompare.co.uk which concurs with some of these concerns about the Ofcom survey.

Read more news.htm at MelonFarmers.co.uk

lambeth council logo Eight local councils have now decided to overturn a film’s BBFC 15 age rating so younger viewers can watch it.The documentary A Northern Soul was rated 15 by the BBFC for strong language. The BBFC commented:

It  includes around 20 uses of strong language and therefore exceeds by some margin anything we have ever permitted at 12A.

The film follows Steve, who struggles to make ends meet as he tries to teach hip-hop to children in Hull schools with his Beats Bus.

So far, licensing committees in Hull, Lambeth, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Southampton, Hackney and Calderdale have downgraded A Northern Soul from a 15 to a 12A.

Phil Bates, licensing manager at Southampton City Council, said he viewed the film differently because it’s a documentary rather than a drama. He explained:

We can see why BBFC awarded a 15 rating, although equally we can see why other authorities have also granted it a 12A.

The use of profane language is fairly infrequent, some of it was used at a time of stress but there were occasions when it was used as everyday language. As this is a fly-on-the-wall style film, showing life as it is, rather than a scripted film where the language is used for effect, we felt the film warranted a 12A.

Director Sean McAllister spoke of the councils’ decisions: I think they’re responding as human beings. He added that Steve’s language was credible and real and culturally embedded within how he speaks. He continued:

The irony is that the motivation for making this film and the heart of why this film should be seen has got the thing censored.

When people actually see it, everyone’s saying ‘where’s the swearing?’ They [the BBFC] have done a word count, which is an F count, and they’ve simply censored it based on that. And they’ve got to get over that.

When in Mission Impossible people are having their heads blown off and 12As are being granted, the whole thing is hypocritical, backward and needs reassessing. Language not used for effect

The BBFC repeated its mantra that its classification guidelines are the result of a large scale public consultation designed to reflect broad public opinion across the UK. Bit in reality the ‘large scale’ part of its public consultation asks a few broad brush questions about whether people generally agree with the BBFC about ratings. The questions do not offer any more nuanced insight into what people think about swearing in the context of everyday parlance of some working people.

Read more me_bbc_trust.htm at MelonFarmers.co.uk

tony hallTony Hall, the BBC’s director general, has repeated his call for global streaming companies, Netflix and Amazon to suffer the same censorship as the UK’s traditional broadcasters — or else risk killing off distinctive British content. He said to the Royal Television Society’s London conference:

It cannot be right that the UK’s media industry is competing against global giants with one hand tied behind its back.

In so many ways — prominence, competition rules, advertising, taxation, content regulation, terms of trade, production quotas — one set of rules applies to UK companies, and barely any apply to the new giants. That needs rebalancing, too. We stand ready to help, where we can.

Hall will use the speech to warn that young British audiences now spend almost as much time watching Netflix — which only launched its UK streaming service in 2012 — as watching BBC television and iPlayer combined.

Citing Ofcom figures, Hall warned that Britain’s public service broadcasters have cut spending on content in real terms by around £1bn since 2004. He said that global streaming companies are not spending enough on British productions to make up the difference, while their UK-based productions tend to focus on material which has a global appeal rather than a distinctly British flavour. Hall added:

This isn’t just an issue for us economically, commercially or as institutions. There is an impact on society. The content we produce is not an ordinary consumer good. It helps shape our society. It brings people together, it helps us understand each other and share a common national story.

Read more bw.htm at MelonFarmers.co.uk

Poster Smallfoot 2018 Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reis Smallfoot is a 2018 USA children’s cartoon comedy by Karey Kirkpatrick and Jason Reisig (co-director).
Starring Zendaya, Channing Tatum and Gina Rodriguez. BBFC link IMDb The film has just been passed U for very mild threat, rude humour, language after BBFC category cuts for 2018 cinema release.

The film was originally passed PG uncut for infrequent mild bad language, but 10 days later the film was passed U after a cut for category.

The BBFC commented:

  • Company chose to remove a single use of mild bad language (‘crap’) in order to obtain a U classification. An uncut PG classification was available.

Summary Notes

A Yeti is convinced that the elusive creatures known as “humans” really do exist.

Read more eu.htm at MelonFarmers.co.uk

european commission logo Tech companies that fail to remove terrorist content quickly could soon face massive fines. The European Commission proposed new rules on Wednesday that would require internet platforms to remove illegal terror content within an hour of it being flagged by national authorities. Firms could be fined up to 4% of global annual revenue if they repeatedly fail to comply.Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and YouTube owner Google (GOOGL) had already agreed to work with the European Union on a voluntary basis to tackle the problem. But the Commission said that progress has not been sufficient.

A penalty of 4% of annual revenue for 2017 would translate to $4.4 billion for Google parent Alphabet and $1.6 billion for Facebook.

The proposal is the latest in a series of European efforts to control the activities of tech companies.

The terror content proposal needs to be approved by the European Parliament and EU member states before becoming law.

Read more gcnews.htm at MelonFarmers.co.uk

European court buildings The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has found that the UK’s mass surveillance programmes, revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, did not meet the quality of law requirement and were incapable of keeping the interference to what is necessary in a democratic society.

The landmark judgment marks the Court’s first ruling on UK mass surveillance programmes revealed by Mr Snowden. The case was started in 2013 by campaign groups Big Brother Watch, English PEN, Open Rights Group and computer science expert Dr Constanze Kurz following Mr Snowden’s revelation of GCHQ mass spying.

Documents provided by Mr Snowden revealed that the UK intelligence agency GCHQ were conducting population-scale interception, capturing the communications of millions of innocent people. The mass spying programmes included TEMPORA, a bulk data store of all internet traffic; KARMA POLICE, a catalogue including a web browsing profile for every visible user on the internet; and BLACK HOLE, a repository of over 1 trillion events including internet histories, email and instant messenger records, search engine queries and social media activity.

The applicants argued that the mass interception programmes infringed UK citizens’ rights to privacy protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights as the population-level surveillance was effectively indiscriminate, without basic safeguards and oversight, and lacked a sufficient legal basis in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

In its judgment, the ECtHR acknowledged that bulk interception is by definition untargeted ; that there was a lack of oversight of the entire selection process, and that safeguards were not sufficiently robust to provide adequate guarantees against abuse.

In particular, the Court noted concern that the intelligence services can search and examine “related communications data” apparently without restriction — data that identifies senders and recipients of communications, their location, email headers, web browsing information, IP addresses, and more. The Court expressed concern that such unrestricted snooping could be capable of painting an intimate picture of a person through the mapping of social networks, location tracking, Internet browsing tracking, mapping of communication patterns, and insight into who a person interacted with.

The Court acknowledged the importance of applying safeguards to a surveillance regime, stating:

In view of the risk that a system of secret surveillance set up to protect national security may undermine or even destroy democracy under the cloak of defending it, the Court must be satisfied that there are adequate and effective guarantees against abuse.’

The Government passed the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) in November 2016, replacing the contested RIPA powers and controversially putting mass surveillance powers on a statutory footing.

However, today’s judgment that indiscriminate spying breaches rights protected by the ECHR is likely to provoke serious questions as to the lawfulness of bulk powers in the IPA.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group said:

Viewers of the BBC drama, the Bodyguard, may be shocked to know that the UK actually has the most extreme surveillance powers in a democracy. Since we brought this case in 2013, the UK has actually increased its powers to indiscriminately surveil our communications whether or not we are suspected of any criminal activity.

In light of today’s judgment, it is even clearer that these powers do not meet the criteria for proportionate surveillance and that the UK Government is continuing to breach our right to privacy.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said:

This landmark judgment confirming that the UK’s mass spying breached fundamental rights vindicates Mr Snowden’s courageous whistleblowing and the tireless work of Big Brother Watch and others in our pursuit for justice.

Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the UK has adopted the most authoritarian surveillance regime of any Western state, corroding democracy itself and the rights of the British public. This judgment is a vital step towards protecting millions of law-abiding citizens from unjustified intrusion. However, since the new Investigatory Powers Act arguably poses an ever greater threat to civil liberties, our work is far from over.

Antonia Byatt, director of English PEN said:

This judgment confirms that the British government’s surveillance practices have violated not only our right to privacy, but our right to freedom of expression too. Excessive surveillance discourages whistle-blowing and discourages investigative journalism. The government must now take action to guarantee our freedom to write and to read freely online.

Dr Constanze Kurz, computer scientist, internet activist and spokeswoman of the German Chaos Computer Club said:

What is at stake is the future of mass surveillance of European citizens, not only by UK secret services. The lack of accountability is not acceptable when the GCHQ penetrates Europe’s communication data with their mass surveillance techniques. We all have to demand now that our human rights and more respect of the privacy of millions of Europeans will be acknowledged by the UK government and also by all European countries.

Dan Carey of Deighton Pierce Glynn, the solicitor representing the applicants, stated as follows:

The Court has put down a marker that the UK government does not have a free hand with the public’s communications and that in several key respects the UK’s laws and surveillance practices have failed. In particular, there needs to be much greater control over the search terms that the government is using to sift our communications. The pressure of this litigation has already contributed to some reforms in the UK and this judgment will require the UK government to look again at its practices in this most critical of areas.